EnergyEnvironmentNews

BLM delays oil & gas lease sales planned east of Great Sand Dunes

Author: Marianne Goodland - July 10, 2018 - Updated: July 11, 2018

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The Bureau of Land Management announced Tuesday it will delay a lease-sale of 11 parcels of land totaling 18,358 acres south of Westcliffe, on the eastern side of the Sangre de Cristo mountains in Huerfano County.

The proposed lease area is on the opposite side of the Sangre de Cristo crest from Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, which has sparked controversy.

The leases were planned for oil and gas activity in this south-central part of Colorado. The sale was scheduled to take place on Sept. 6.

The delay, according to agency spokesman Jayson Barangan, was after the agency received a written request from the Navajo Nation, which owns land in the area. Barangan said the agency agreed to defer the sale, although it may be considered at a later date.

When the public comment period for the lease-sale opened in March, the BLM was flooded with thousands of public comments, with many coming from people who mistakenly believed the leases would take place inside the Great Sand Dunes park, located on the west side of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

The proposed lease sale area is outside the eastern border of the park, which runs for several miles along the Sangre de Cristo crest, Barangan told Colorado Politics.

However, according to the Sierra Club, a trail on the park’s eastern side that crosses over the mountains could be impacted. Kimberly Pope of the Sierra Club told Colorado Public Radio last March that one of the park’s more popular trails that goes over Medano Pass “starts right where one of the leases is. So people that take that trail through the park over the mountain range would definitely be impacted.”

Pope said Tuesday that the decision is more than a win for public lands and parks.

The deferment of the September lease sales in the Huerfano River Valley and near Great Sand Dunes National Park represents the importance of consulting directly-impacted communities in the face of dirty fuels extraction.”

“This deferment is a great victory, but the fight isn’t over,” Pope continued, and vowed to keep fighting until all lease sales are permanently stopped. The Sierra Club “will work with local communities every step of the way in making sure corporate polluters don’t get their hands on the Huerfano River Valley and lands next to Great Sand Dunes National Park and the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness.”

The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council also raised concerns about the lease sale, noting that the closest parcels were less than 10 miles from the park and could impact water and wildlife habitats.

Colorado Democrats raised a hue and cry over the sale, signing off on a letter in April protesting the proposed sale, which also includes acres in Kiowa, Weld, Washington and Lincoln counties. Those lease-sales — about 4,000 acres — are still scheduled to take place in September.

But Gov. John Hickenlooper didn’t formally object, pointing out the leases were not in the park.

Should the lease-sale go forward, Colorado would receive 49 percent of the lease-sale proceeds, according to the BLM.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.