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BLM has 5 geographic area plans in the works

The Bureau of Land Management is pedaling fast these days to keep up with increased interest in leasing federal lands for energy development. The agency now has five geographic area plans in the works, said BLM Glenwood Springs field office assistant manager Steve Bennett. The plans cover large federal lease areas where between 40 and 186 wells will be drilled.Bennett reported on oil and gas activity at the Northwest Oil and Gas Forum in Rifle Thursday.The BLM is conducting environmental assessments of the GAPs, Bennett said. EnCana has leases on four of the GAPs located on East and West Mamm creeks near Rifle, and in the Rulison, Parachute and DeBeque areas. Bill Barrett Inc. has the fifth, located on Divide Creek south of Silt.Since the Energy Act was passed last year, the BLM has also been required to meet certain federal mandates to increase efficiency in issuing oil and gas drilling permits.To that end, the agency will open an energy office in south Glenwood Springs within the next few months, Bennett said. Eleven new staff members were recently hired and nine more positions remain to be filled. Also sharing the office will be three White River National Forest employees and representatives of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers.The Energy Act also directs the BLM to reassess its policies and procedures governing oil and gas leases on so-called split estate lands, where the surface and below-ground minerals are owned by separate parties.”This has obviously been a big issue in Colorado,” Bennett said. Locally, land owners, who do not retain mineral rights, have felt the impacts of gas drilling near and on their property, over which they have no control. According to federal mining law, mineral development supersedes private property rights.The BLM will hold “listening sessions” to gather public comment about issues surrounding split-estate energy development. A session is slated for Wednesday, March 22, at the Doubletree Hotel in Grand Junction, at 1 and 7 p.m.Other sessions will be held in Albuquerque, N.M.; Casper, Wyo.; Miles City, Mont., and Washington, D.C.Oil shale development is also before the BLM this year, as mandated by the Energy Policy Act. The act requires commercial leases to be in place by 2007. The BLM is now preparing an environmental impact statement for commercial oil shale development.It recently awarded four oil shale research and development leases in the Piceance Basin in western Colorado and eastern Utah to energy companies. The agency will host public information meetings in the last week of March and the first week in April around the region. A meeting is scheduled for April 4 in Rifle from 4-7 p.m.Meetings will also be held in Rangely on March 28, in Meeker on March 30 and in Grand Junction on April 8. Locations have not yet been determined.Finally, the BLM is also at work completing the final draft of the Roan Plateau Resource Management Plan and EIS. Bennett said his office is hoping for a release of the document in late spring.Once the final RMP/EIS is published, there follows a 30-day public protest period, then a protest resolution period. The Record of Decision, which adopts the recommendation of the EIS for management of the Roan Plateau, should be published in late summer, Bennett said.


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