BLM Proposes 6 South Park parcels for Feb. Lease Auction

BLM’s Royal Gorge Field Office issued an Environmental Assessment (EA) on August 17, 2012 that includes 6 parcels in South Park. Presumably, inclusion of these parcels also was approved by BLM State Director Helen Hankins. 5 of these parcels are in the vicinity of Spinney Mountain Reservoir. Back in November, CWF and NWF, joined by more than 400 residents (Nov. and Jan.) and the County, had asked the BLM to undertake a master planning process that enables BLM to consider where leasing is appropriate and where it is inappropriate — before offering any more oil and gas leases in South Park under its outdated 1996 resource management plan. The County also issued its own letter to the BLM on July 5, requesting planning before issuing more leases. The BLM did not respond to the County’s request. Instead, BLM proposed to lease 6 parcels.

The public comment period began on August 17 and concludes on September 17. CWF will submit comments and encourages you to do so, too. We will post our comments in advance of the due date.

BLM’s rationale for issuing leases as soon as possible in the Royal Gorge Field Office area counties is that if it does not do so it “would set up situations in which reservoirs could not be adequately developed and public minerals would be drained by nearby private or state wells, resulting in a loss of revenue due to drainage situations that could be resolved by timely leasing.” This is not a persuasive rationale for South Park where there is no activity now. BLM’s aim for the parcels close to Spinney’s gold medal fishing waters is to “partially retain existing character of the landscape… the level of change should be moderate….” As to its discussion of cumulative impacts, BLM asserts that such analysis should not occur now but rather when an operator who leases the parcel submits an application for permit to drill (APD). This means an individual site by individual site consideration that certainly does not address cumulative impacts. BLM would apply this apporach to assess “specific geologic formations,” “potential impacts to the site speciifc water quality associated with any exploration and development,” wildlife (beyond lease stipulations), etc. BLM notes that there would begin to be cumulative changes that could detract from the peaceful and serene stated management objectives of the state park by introducing a variety of human intrusions such as roads, equipment, facilities, and workers.”

In addition, Park County has begun a water quality assessment and is testing groundwater with its own funds and some grants. The BLM’s EA states, “…activities at the exploration and development stage could have impacts to water quality. The magnitude and location of direct and indirect effects cannot be predicted until the site-specific APD stage of development.” CWF member, retired Colorado state fisheries manager and South Park landowner Eddie Kochman’s reaction was, ” This is Denver’s watershed. There’s not enough baseline water-quality data available to really judge the risk from oil and gas exploration and production. Before BLM takes any of these actions, there should be good water quality data available, and there’s not.” He added, “To me, a half-mile from Spinney Reservoir (a gold medal waters fishery) is not an adequate distance. ”