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All parcels associated with the Tres Rios Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease sale originally scheduled for today, Feb. 14, have been temporarily deferred.
Leasing of the parcels would allow for drilling for oil and gas production on the parcels.
This year’s lease sale, which includes two parcels located in Archuleta County, was adamantly protested by individuals, local government, neighboring state governments and the Bureau of Reclamation.
The deferral was announced Feb. 7, and includes 12 parcels located in Archuleta, La Plata, Dolores, Montezuma and San Juan counties, making up about 12,000 acres.
Land making up the 12 parcels is (considering the surface of the parcels) approximately 68 percent privately owned, 28 percent BLM-administered, and 4 percent state-administered, according to the BLM’s webpage for the sale.
“We are further communicating with local elected officials and other entities to provide insight into the leasing process and oil and gas development,” BLM staff said in an e-mail announcing the deferral.
The lease sale includes two parcels in Archuleta County and sparked concern over groundwater contamination, hydraulic fracturing at a shallow depth, and coal seam fires, which can burn for long periods of time, with the county strongly opposing the sale in a letter to the BLM.
The two Archuleta County parcels are located southwest of Pagosa Springs, in southern Archuleta County.
The Bureau of Reclamation (BoR), too, formally protested the sale of the Archuleta County parcels — a move John Whitney, Four Corners regional director for Senator Michael Bennet, said he had never seen. He made the statement during a meeting with the BLM and Archuleta County. At the same meeting, Whitney noted that Bennet’s Washington, D.C. office had been hearing from New Mexico senators on the subject (the BoR’s letter protests the sale partially on the grounds of water collection in the area that could be compromised, with that water feeding Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and other New Mexico municipalities and pueblos).
Despite those concerns, the sale was originally allowed to move forward.
Brad Dodd, associate field manager for the Tres Rios Field Office, said 16 protest letters were received concerning the lease sale.
Dodd said the sale has been deferred in order to allow the BLM to communicate with area elected officials and disseminate information, and to take a more in-depth look at the environmental concerns raised in the protest letters.
Dodd also stated that the environmental assessment for the parcels was completed according to the most recent draft of the Resource Management Plan for the area, making the environmental look at the sale up to date.
“The final product, in the end, the EA that we did, is going to be as good as with the new plan in place,” Dodd said.
Following that process, Dodd said a decision will be made about when to move forward with the lease sale, or if it will continue at all.
Dodd said another lease sale is scheduled for May, but noted the leases on the parcels may be put off indefinitely.
A 2002 request from the gas industry proposed about 160 federal, natural gas wells in the Northern San Juan Basin. Of the 160 wells proposed, 100 were proposed to be new wells in undeveloped portions of Archuleta County. That project was estimated to have a 40-year life.
The project estimated 2.5 trillion cubic feet of gas in the project area, according to a presentation made by Brown at the meeting.
The first draft Environmental Impact Statement considering for drilling in the NSJB was released in June 2004, with the final EIS for the project later released in August 2006.
A Record of Decision released in April 2007 then prohibited most drilling near the Fruitland Outcrop formation in La Plata County, but allows drilling near the Outcrop in Archuleta County using an “adaptive management approach,” which means the approach could be changed by technical experts should any unanticipated impacts arise.
The lease process
During the January meeting between the BLM and Archuleta County, Tres Rios Field Manager Connie Clementson and Dodd explained that lease-reform measures started in 2010 require nine months of notice, comments and approval before a lease sale, as opposed to the quick and simple lease available prior to the reform.
The process for the February lease sale, Clementson said, began in June.
Clementson then described the process a lease goes through before a sale: The process begins with a look at the Resource Management Plan for the area, which provides the determination of what areas can be leased. Following that, the parcels are looked at in terms of conformance with the Environmental Assessment.
After a parcel is leased, it goes through further environmental assessments that are site-specific and determine conditions of approval.
Clementson said surface owners of parcels that are up for lease sale are notified when the process is initiated. She added that the counties will also be notified at the initiation for future sales (which takes place annually in February).
Clementson also added that the nine-month process will be expanded to 10 months for the 2014 lease sale, with notification to surface owners only and not to any adjacent landowners.