State Land Board pulls South Park Basin drilling leases | PostIndependent.com

State Land Board pulls South Park Basin drilling leases

Janice Kurbjun
Summit County Correspondent
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Three oil and gas lease tracts on the South Park Basin were pulled from last week’s Colorado State Land Board lease sale in a move advocates hailed as a victory for drinking water and wildlife.

Melissa Yoder of the Colorado State Land Board said two of the parcels were adjacent to Antero Reservoir and were removed at the request of Denver Water. The third tract was near a Gold Medal fishery on the Middle Fork of the South Platte, and Colorado Division of Wildlife officials advised it be removed.

The parcels are among about 15 others in South Park, which is a subset of the more than 100 statewide covering 55,934 acres.

“The South Park Basin is incredibly important for our drinking water and rich in wildlife resources,” said Matt Garrington, program advocate for Environment Colorado, in a press release. “The Colorado State Land Board made a wise decision today recognizing that some areas are too sensitive to be drilled where the full impacts are not yet fully known.”

He’s not the only one advocating state officials take a step back from the land sale – the Denver Post reports that Save Our South Park and the South Park Coalition, among residents and other entities, want more review on impacts to wildlife and water quality before the lease sale occurs. Particularly since the wells that will be drilled could be fracked – a practice of pumping a chemical cocktail into the ground to free gas deposits – and have impacts to the watershed.

In response, the Land Board commissioners “asked its staff to go back through the oil and gas auction list to ensure the Division of Wildlife didn’t have any additional stipulations to put on tracts as it related to specific wildlife habitat impacts,” Yoder said.

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She added that if there are concerns, leases receive stipulations to accommodate the habitat issues identified. In that area, mule deer and pronghorn could be affected by drilling operations.

“The State Land Board will auction lands with high wildlife values, such as severe winter range for mule deer and pronghorn and greater sage grouse habitat,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, in the press release. “It is absolutely critical that the State Land Board confer with the Division of Wildlife about how to best avoid, or at least mitigate, impacts to wildlife habitat.”

The South Park Basin provides drinking water for 1.5 million residents in the Denver Metro Area, drawing water from reservoirs such as Antero Reservoir, Spinney Mountain Reservoir, and the watershed for the South Platte River. In 2009, it was declared a national heritage area, one of three in Colorado and 49 in the United States.

State Land Board minerals manager Mark Davis said to the Denver Post that companies currently hold leases to drill under 70 state parcels in South Park.

The Land Board is charged with using state lands to maximize revenue for schools. The approximately 15 leases in the South Park Basin could raise up to $8 million – more if the drillers are successful.

The Wildlife Commission and the Land Board agreed in their recent meeting that they need to have more formalized communication processes to address land use issues and ensure feedback is given and received, Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said.

South Park area landowner Eddie Kochman, who’s also a former state aquatic wildlife manager for the Division of Wildlife agreed, according to the press release.

“One thing is for sure, there has to be more coordination between local government, state agencies, water providers, and landowners before additional development occurs,” he said.

According to Environment Colorado, the regional stakeholder group Coalition of the Upper South Platte is looking for ways to monitor the impacts of current exploratory drilling in the South Park Basin. A full-scale computer modeling study should help understand potential impacts to groundwater, rivers and streams and the watershed. The group hopes the Land Board commissioners and other agencies will support full implementation of the study before large-scale development occurs in the South Park Basin.