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Looming oil and gas leases have environmentalists concerned

Some believe pollution could seep over to the Great Sand Dunes

HUERFANO — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is planning to auction oil and gas leases on parcels held by the federal government in western Huerfano County, a step toward petroleum companies possibly drilling wells. There are 11 parcels, covering 18,358 acres.

The close proximity of these parcels and their potential wells have environmentalists concerned over possible groundwater contamination at the great Sand Dunes National Park, which at some points is less than a mile away from the eastern boundary of the park.

“There are concerns that oil and gas development would impact wilderness values, including air quality, dark night sky (and) natural quiet,” as well as plants and wildlife, said Anna Lee Vargas of the Conejos Clean Water nonprofit organization.

Christine Canaly, director of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, said most of the area subject to the leasing is on private land and some is in the San Isabel National Forest.

BLM says it holds oil and gas lease sales quarterly, as required by the Mineral Leasing Act, when eligible lands are available for leasing.

BLM’s field office in Canon City is set to issue its environmental assessment of the lease sale Thursday, triggering a 15-day period of public review and comment.