Oil and Gas Real Estate Agent Helen Hankins at it Again in Thompson Divide

Today, the Colorado Bureau of Land Management State Director Helen Hankins’ office announced it will extend the life of about two dozen oil and gas leases acquired by SG Interests and Ursa Resources Group in Colorado’s Thompson Divide area. These leases were set to expire this year because leaseholders had failed to conduct any meaningful development in 10 years. Dir. Hankins’ move runs contrary to stated goals by the Obama administration that oil and gas companies develop leases or that land be returned to the public. SG Interests and Ursa did not have to pay for the lease extension and continue to hold the leases for speculative purposes.

Ellynne Bannon, The Checks and Balances Project western energy lands program manager released the following statement:

“Once again, Colorado BLM Director Hankins is showing what a great real estate agent she is for oil and gas companies She’s ignoring the will of the communities around Thompson Divide and putting drinking water, farming and ranching businesses at risk in order to provide another freebie to oil and gas companies. Hankins’ actions represent exactly what she shouldn’t do as a steward of the public’s land and water.”

Background facts:

  • Director Hankins has a long track record of ignoring public concerns and putting communities at risk. Earlier this year, Hankins proposed drilling right next to Mesa Verde National Park and Dinosaur National Monument – including parcels next to a visitor center and park entrances. Hankins also re-offered highly controversial drilling leases in the midst of Denver Metro’s drinking water supplies and the agricultural North Fork Valley.
  • Director Hankins’ actions are out of step with President Obama and the Department of Interior’s policy on leases not in production – which is essentially “use it or lose it.” Currently, 21 million of the total 37 million acres in federal BLM lands leased for oil and gas drilling are not in production or exploration. The oil and gas industry also holds 7,000 idle drilling permits on federal lands.
  • A 2012 analysis found that that hunting, fishing, grazing, and recreation activities in the Thompson Divide support nearly 300 jobs and $30 million a year in economic value. Yet, Dir. Hankins seems intent on jeopardizing these jobs and revenue stream by extending controversial leases in the Divide, where a large local constituency relies upon recreation, ranching and hunting – and clean water and air – for their livelihoods.

Conservation group sends BLM Director Hankins a sign

This week, Alan Prendergast wrote in Westword about a new Environment Colorado campaign to protect Colorado’s national parks from drilling:

“When you’re a bureaucrat under fire, accused of being a tool of Big Oil, there’s nothing like a big, wet kiss from your critics to let you know you’re being watched — closely. Particularly if that greeting takes the form of a giant billboard on I-70 in Golden, not far from the Bureau of Land Management office where Colorado director Helen Hankins ponders oil and gas leases on public lands and other weighty matters.”

Since assuming her post in 2010, Dir. Hankins has executed her job as if she were a real estate agent for oil and gas companies. She has proposed allowing drilling on lands near national parks, Denver’s watershed in South Park, agricultural communities… anywhere that industry asked for it.

After a year of public outcry – that was heard all the way to the Department of Interior in Washington, D.C. – she deferred many of those leases, but that’s not a permanent solution. Environment Colorado’s roadside message to Dir. Hankins should be seen as a reminder – Do your job the way it’s supposed to be done.

Billboard

Billboard on I-70

It’s time conservation be put on equal ground with oil and gas drilling.

ICYMI: Colorado BLM and Helen Hankins come under fire for ‘irresponsible’ drilling approach

Over the past few weeks, Colorado Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Helen Hankins has come under fire in the press, from local community leaders and others for her skewed and unbalanced approach to public land use.

A former superintendent of Dinosaur National Monument recently took Dir. Hankins to task in a Denver Post column, calling her drilling proposals ‘irresponsible’.

“Unfortunately, things are out of balance in Colorado. Bureau of Land Management state director Helen Hankins has proposed oil and gas leasing next to both Dinosaur National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park.” – Denny Huffman, former Dinosaur National Monument Superintendent, Irresponsible drilling proposals for national parks, Denver Post, January 29, 2013

In December, the current superintendent of Dinosaur National Monument publicly stated that the Monument had asked Hankins to defer or withdraw the leases, specially citing the following concerns:

“Our concerns would be cumulative impacts on air quality, on groundwater quantity and quality, night skies, soundscapes, migration routes of animals … and potential impacts on the endangered fish species in the rivers.” – Mary Risser, superintendent, Dinosaur National Monument, “North Fork oil, gas leasing protested,” Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, 18 December 2012.

Following public outcry and concerns raised by the current superintendent of the Monument, Dir. Hankins deferred the leases bordering Dinosaur National Monument from the upcoming February lease sale.

The North Fork leases originally scheduled for sale in 2012 generated 3,000 public comments from the valley’s 9,500 residents, most in opposition.  At a recent meeting with Colorado BLM, the town of Crawford raised concerns about one of the lease parcels located close to the town’s elementary school, popular hiking trail and transmissions lines.

While a local realtor in the North Fork Valley is:

“already seeing significant economic impacts from the mere threat of leasing happening, not even the lease sale going through.”

In a recent press release about Colorado BLM’s White River draft oil and gas resource management plan, sportsmen groups pointed to the BLM’s use of ‘seriously outdated information on mule deer numbers’, saying that:

 “The BLM’s plan to allow up to 15,000 new oil and gas wells in the Piceance Basin could be nothing short of a death sentence for one of the country’s largest mule deer herds and the greater sage-grouse, a species already teetering on the brink of no return.’’ – Kate Zimmerman, National Wildlife Federation’s public lands policy director, Wildlife Groups blast BLM plan for Colo,’s White River, January 30, 2013

John Ellenberger, the state’s former big game manager, said the BLM plan is full of holes and doesn’t address some basic issues, including how baseline data on wildlife will be gathered. He called the management approach that could result in high levels of disturbance in key wildlife habitat “unprecedented.’’ – Wildlife Groups blast BLM plan for Colo,’s White River, January 30, 2013.

Earlier this week, the Delta County Independent reported that Dir. Hankins refused requests from local community groups to meet and discuss the proposed leases, and at a recent Paonia Town Council meeting Dir. Hankins didn’t allow any questions from the public.

Jim Ramey, director of Citizens For A Healthy Community (CHC), said last Friday:

“We were greatly disappointed that state director Hankins …ignored our request for them to meet with community residents. We have consistently called upon the BLM to hold a public hearing in order to communicate directly with the concerned residents of the North Fork Valley, and the UFO and BLM’s Colorado office have consistently refused.” – Explanations do little to soothe concerns, Delta County Independent, January 31, 2013

The BLM answered questions from town council members only, making it clear they would not address any questions from the audience. – Explanations do little to soothe concerns, Delta County Independent, January 31, 2013

A new Colorado Pols blog, State BLM office spins fiction, Flubs North Fork PR tour, takes Dir. Hankins and the Colorado BLM office to task for misrepresenting facts – including not knowing their own mission.

This all seems to point to the Colorado BLM’s confounding confusion about its actual mission in managing the public’s lands. For instance State Director Hankins has claimed that “The first goal of the Department of Interior is to work towards energy independence.”

 But that’s not what the Department of Interior states, on its website, in a section entitled Our Mission: Protecting America’s Great Outdoors and Powering Our Future.

The US Department of the Interior protects America’s natural resources and heritage, honors our cultures and tribal communities, and supplies the energy to power our future.”

The blog also calls out Dir. Hankins and her staff for not listening to the concerns of residents and business owners in Paonia, citing a quote from the town’s mayor:

“So (here’s) what I heard this morning, we heard a lot from BLM on process, and it didn’t really answer people’s questions. People felt not heard, although we all sat here and we tried to convey. I’ve heard the word ‘condescending.” – Paonia mayor Neil Schwieterman, Crowd gathers to question BLM in Paonia, KNVF Radio, January 23, 2013

Forget common sense and good business, CO BLM Director Hankins’ actions spur red tape, protests and public outcry

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced that as oil and gas leasing on public lands increased in 2012, the number of protested leases declined.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case in Colorado. It’s just the opposite under Colorado Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Helen Hankins. In her state, lease protests have risen sharply and the number of developed leases declined.

protested_leases_table

— Source, The Wilderness Society’s Making the Grade report

Hankins has disregarded DOI’s leasing reforms and instead decided to auction drilling leases in places like the North Fork Valley, right next to farms and wineries, and next to Dinosaur National Monument. Her insistence on giving oil and gas companies whatever they ask for has created more red tape for industry, upset local communities, and, if the leases go through, could jeopardize local economies.

Some facts about Hankins’ tenure as Colorado’s BLM Director:

  • According to The Wilderness Society’s report, Making the Grade, in Colorado, 93 percent of parcels in lease sale notices were protested in CY 2012. The national average for protested leases was 12 percent, and no other western state exceeded 25 percent.
  • Dir. Hankins refuses to listen to the local community in North Fork.  Hankins is again planning to lease over 20,000 acres, relying on a resource management plan written in 1989, decades before the organic farms and vineyards that now drive the region’s economy were in place.
  • Dir. Hankins has repeatedly refused to use Master Leasing Plans (MLP), which allow for landscape-level analysis to determine drilling’s effects on air, water, land and wildlife. In South Park, Dir. Hankins has refused to conduct an MLP, despite the fact that Denver’s and Aurora ‘s watersheds are in close proximity to the potential lease sites.

Our weekly wrap on the top 5 energy stories for the week of July 29th

COGA CEO Tisha Schuller supports front group claim that trees cause smog

Colorado Oil and Gastrees cause smog copy Association CEO Tisha Schuller said she wanted to depolarize the debate around fracking and drilling, and even said she’d be touring Colorado communities to do just that. So it was disappointing, if not surprising, when her group helped publicize industry front group Energy In Depth’s (EID) attacks on Denver Post reporter Bruce Finley. Finley came under fire from EID for his story on new requirements for companies surveying for oil and gas on residents’ land and for shining a light on industry propaganda. The EID piece went so far as to contend that trees cause smog. Rather than seize the opportunity to help set the record straight about the negative effects of oil and gas, Schuller’s group tweeted her support of EID’s lies. If Schuller truly wants to help depolarize the debate, she’ll distance herself from EID.

Group tours Dinosaur National Park to discuss proposed drilling

As concerned parties wait to learn whether or not Colorado BLM Director Helen Hankins will again try to lease land next to Dinosaur National Park’s visitor center for oil and gas drilling, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet brought together industry, politicians experts, including Park Ranger Jim Gale, to discuss the project on a two-day river trip through Dinosaur National Park. Others on the trip included: Colorado State Senator Gail Schwartz and a representative from the water commission. Gale blogged on the impact their surroundings’ beauty had on the entire group. But, questions remain about the fate of the park and whether the Colorado BLM is up to the task of balancing protecting the park with oil and gas development.

Water shortages among top concerns in Colorado

This week The Coloradoan asked five people—experts, an activist, and politicians—their views on the greatest environmental threats tCache La Poudre River copyo the state. Climate change, water shortages, air and water quality and the expansion of oil and gas were top environmental concerns.

Despite the group’s concerns, surprisingly most believed there were steps Coloradoans and the state could take to lessen the effect of environmental threats. Solutions ranged from greater protection of rivers, Coloradoans making their views known during elections, water conservation, and better oil and gas regulation.

Oil and gas royalty rates from the 1920s shortchange taxpayers

In a recent The Hill op-ed, Jim Baca, highlighted the up to hundreds of millions of dollars taxpayers are losing out on due to oil and gas onshowoodrow wilson copyre royalty rates that have not been updated since the 1920s when Woodrow Wilson was president. Citing data from the Center for Western Priorities’ (CWP) recent report, “A Fair Share: The Case for Updating Federal Royalties,” Baca writes that the federal government is required to evenly split royalty revenue with states where oil is produced. Yet, the federal government charges oil and gas companies only 12.5 percent, lower than the 16.67 percent to 25 percent charged by the energy-rich states Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. These states are losing out on an estimated $400-$600 million dollars in revenue as a result of the government’s undercharging, the report says.

According to President Obama’s estimates, over the next 10 years updating the onshore royalty rate would generate $2.5 billion in net profit for the U.S. Treasury.

And, the good news is the Department of the Interior has the authority to raise the onshore rate to one that’s fair to taxpayers. It wouldn’t be the first time the agency raised rates, having previously raised the offshore rate from 12.75 percent to 18.75 percent under the Bush Administration.

With the President estimating an economic boost in the billions and the Department of the Interior having the power to do so, it’s time to charge a rate that’s fair to states and to taxpayers.

Cornell Professor and oil and gas engineer: gas is not “clean”

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Cornell Professor Anthony Ingraffea  discussed the negative impact of gas-produced methane on our air and water and says that if we really want to address climate change, as outlined in President Obama’s recent speech, we’ll support the scaling of renewables such as solar. However, he adds that support for renewables needs to be coupled with policies that recognize the threat from oil and gas leaks and emissions.

Media shines a light on Colorado BLM leasing plans

News stories last week show that BLM Colorado State Director Helen Hankins is up to her old tricks. According to stories in E&E News’ Energywire, the Durango Herald, and the Denver Business Journal, Dir. Hankins is following her consistent pattern of offering to auction off controversial land for oil and gas, even after major public outcry. This time, Dir. Hankins’ plans to offer more than 10,000 acres near Mesa Verde National Park – worsening air pollution problems the park is already experiencing from existing nearby drilling operations and coal-fired power plants.

It’s worth noting that bringing these oil and gas proposals back puts Dir. Hankins in direct conflict with the balanced approach to public land use that Interior Sec. Sally Jewell spent her weekend endorsing to Western governors.

You may remember that in early 2013, Dir. Hankins deferred the Mesa Verde parcels after the National Park Service, landowners, and community groups protested the threat posed to the park from drilling pollution. Her reversal demonstrates why Sec. Jewell should rein in the Colorado BLM office and ensure that Dir. Hankins is using innovative 2010 oil and gas leasing reforms such as “Master Leasing Plans” which allow a more balanced approach to energy development and look at on-the-ground impacts, including threats to air quality and tourism and recreation. Instead, Dir. Hankins continues ignore the balanced approach Westerners want and plays her part as the oil and gas industry’s real estate agent.

In the Durango Herald, Emery Cowan reported that the La Plata County Commissioners sent a letter to Dir. Hankins asking her to implement the Obama administration’s oil and gas leasing reforms.

County asks for delay in gas and oil lease

“However, by making the decision to lease (the La Plata County parcels in November), the BLM appears to be shutting the door on a (master plan) and a smart approach to protect the treasures that are so important to our local community and economy,” the letter said.

Scott Streater, writing for E&E News, noted that former park rangers weighed in on the original lease sale with concerns of how oil and gas leasing would affect one of the nation’s most iconic parks, Mesa Verde National Park.

BLM to put deferred parcels near Colo. national park back on the block

Among those that protested against leasing the parcels was the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, which wrote a letter in February to Salazar complaining that development of the eight parcels “could further impair the already degraded air quality at Mesa Verde, harm important scenic values within the surrounding landscape and negatively affect the local economy, which depends greatly on the national park’s protected status.”

Writing in the Denver Business Journal, Cathy Proctor noted that Mesa Verde attracts more than half a million visitors annually.

Denver Business Journal: Feds to re-offer oil and gas leases near Mesa Verde National Park

The federal Bureau of Land Management is moving forward with a controversial plan to offer about 12,000 acres of mineral rights in southwest Colorado for oil and gas drilling at its November auction — including parcels near the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park.

As public outcry continues to grow, we’ll be watching to see if Dir. Hankins is allowed to continue making the Administration’s reforms into a broken promise for Western communities.

Our weekly wrap on the top 5 energy stories for the week of June 24th

1. La Plata Co. Commissioners call for Colorado BLM to adopt smart approach to oil & gas development

La Plata County Commissioners sent a letter to Colorado BLM Director Helen Hankins, urging that her office engage in better land use planning, before offering leases to oil and gas companies. They did so out of concern for the damage irresponsible oil and gas leasing could do to landowners, water resources, and Mesa Verde National Park. Drilling could exacerbate air pollution at Mesa Verde. This would harm tourism opportunities, and threats to water supplies could negatively affect landowners in the western part of the county.

2. Spills are contaminating Colorado groundwater – Will Hickenlooper act?

A Denver Post review of Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission data found that the Centennial State has been hit with 179 spills so far this year. And, despite what Gov. Hickenlooper likes to claim, a quarter of these spills have led to groundwater contamination. The State of Colorado is charged with holding oil and gas companies responsible for these spills and should levy appropriate fines. So it’s puzzling why Governor Hickenlooper recently gutted legislation that would have set mandatory minimum penalties and increased fines for the companies responsible for the spills.

3. New bill would protect 750,000 acres in Western Colorado

The previous Congress was the first since the 1960s to protect no additional acres of public land. In an effort to not duplicate that distinction, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) introduced legislation that designates three quarters of a million acres of backcountry land as wilderness in areas such as Browns Canyon, Dolores River Canyon, and the Flat Tops addition.

4. Park ranger calls on balanced approach to drilling on public lands

Park Rangers for Our Lands founder and former National Park Ranger Ellis Richard penned a guest blog for Huffington Post Green to talk about the briefing he delivered alongside NPCA’s Dr. James Nation, last week. A standing-room-only crowd listened and asked questions to learn about the threat that encroaching drilling and fracking operations pose to national parks, from a man who spent nearly 30 years protecting them.

5. Why America’s shale oil boom could end sooner than you think

Forbes took a look at the forces driving oil and gas drilling in America, and sure enough they’re economic in nature, not regulatory. As oil and gas executives and their allies in Congress continue to try and push more government handouts to billion-dollar companies, too much production could put oil right where natural gas is – in the red.

Industry’s new leaf?

Maybe the oil and gas lobby’s latest efforts should strike hope in the hearts of Coloradans. Are they turning over a new leaf and willing to balance energy development with conservation interests? Maybe … maybe not.

From Colorado Oil and Gas Association Director Tisha Schuller’scharm offensive” to Western Energy Alliance President Tim Wigely’spoll for the people,” oil and gas lobbyists are in high gear trying to stop a public relations mess that industry themselves created.

Clearly the effort is garnering them good press like Schuller reinventing herself as the environmentalist or Mr. Wigley taking a tired poll they rehash nearly every year and parading it as proof they want to know what Coloradans think.

Mr. Wigley makes broad claims about the support for energy development using his national poll, but he fails to take a look at what people believe in his own backyard. If industry really wants to know what Coloradans think, they don’t have too far to go far to find out. They want the health of their communities, our air, and our national parks on equal ground with energy development.

A recent poll of westerners by Hart Research Associates found that nearly two-thirds of voters (65 percent) believe that “permanently protecting and conserving public lands for future generations is very important to them personally” while less than a third (30 percent) feel that “making sure oil and gas resources on public lands are available for development” is important.

Just this week, a delegation from the North Fork Valley traveled to Washington, DC calling for balance. The group included a winery owner, local official, and agricultural representative. After officials like Colorado BLM Dir. Helen Hankins and industry failed to listen to the community, they took matters into their own hand and drafted a citizen proposal which allows for responsible energy development while protecting the booming agri-tourism economy of the North Fork.

This isn’t the first time that there have been questions about Dir. Hankins continually listening to the oil and gas industry instead of local communities and conservation interests. Industry proposals to drill near Mesa Verde National Park and place a drill rig near the visitor center of Dinosaur National Monument have faced severe backlash.

Yesterday, Boulder County Councilors decided to put a three-year oil and gas fracking ban on the ballot to give its residents an opportunity to speak and industry to listen. It’s no wonder so many local communities along the Front Range are proposing hard-lines like that after industry failed to “listen” to Coloradans and instead sided with Gov. John Hickenlooper to kill numerous bills which would have protected our water, our air, and our health.

Ms. Schuller and Mr. Wigley have one thing right. A rational conversation about oil and gas drilling is long overdue. We must put our communities, our air, and our national parks on equal ground with energy development.

It’s time for the oil and gas lobby to turn over that leaf.

Analysis: Colorado BLM failing to enact Obama energy reforms – creating red tape, uncertainty

A stunning new analysis shows striking inefficiencies at work in Colorado that should infuriate anyone looking for a smarter approach to federal oil and gas leasing – including both conservationists and energy companies.

In Colorado, leases sold by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have attracted nearly three times the number of costly, time-consuming lawsuits (known as protests) than we’ve seen in the rest of the Rockies. Our new analysis found that 76 percent of leases in Colorado were protested, as opposed to 27 percent in surrounding states, on average.

The analysis is based on BLM data recently released for the first time regarding the number of protests in each state filed by citizens and stakeholders on tracts of lands (known as parcels) available for oil and gas leasing. Protests are one of the key measurements for how controversial a particular decision to lease land for oil and gas development.

WEP Rocky Mountain Map

The reason for this massive discrepancy is clear:

Helen Hankins, the BLM’s top bureaucrat in Colorado, has failed to implement President Obama’s common-sense leasing reforms – designed to streamline the leasing process and reduce conflict dramatically by requiring research and analysis be completed prior to leasing.

A recent report from the Center for American Progress pointed out that:

Those reforms called for a better balance between developing oil and gas resources and the protection of other public lands resources, including nearby parks and refuges, wildlife, and historic and archaeological sites. “There is no presumed preference for oil and gas development over other uses,” states the reform document.

In other words, the reforms were meant to drive our local economies with a real balance between protecting public lands to support and attract high-wage businesses to the West, and using them to produce American-made energy – which together support 100,000s of jobs.

In states like Utah and New Mexico – where the BLM offices are implementing the reforms – protests are down, and energy is being produced. That approach is working for industry and conservation interests – and most importantly our communities and our families.

But in Colorado, Hankins has turned the President’s balanced reforms into a broken promise for our communities. Instead of helping oil and gas companies responsibly develop oil and gas resources in the right places, while protecting those lands that drive the economy and attract new business, Hankins continues to rely on decades-old plans and analyses – proposing to allow oil and gas drilling near places like Mesa Verde National Park, and Dinosaur National Monument.

By miring all sides in expensive red tape, Hankins has failed Westerners who are doing everything they can to get back to work and support their families. They expect their government to champion the Western way of life, including use of public lands in a balanced way to support sustainable economic growth.

The Obama administration must correct this failure by taking action to follow the directives in the 2010 leasing reforms now.

Former park rangers launch group to protect America’s national parks from irresponsible oil & gas drilling

Former park rangers have launched a new group, Park Rangers for Our Lands, to provide solutions to irresponsible plans to drill near America’s national parks.

The former park rangers are advocating for a balance between energy development and conservation, just at a time when Colorado Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Helen Hankins has tried to push forward widely-criticized plans to drill next to Dinosaur National Monument and near Mesa Verde National Park. These are two areas of primary concern for the group.

According to Richard Ellis, who spearheaded the formation of Park Rangers for Our Lands:

“Our parks are under siege. Oil and gas drilling is encroaching our public lands from all sides…We need the BLM to work with its neighbors at the National Park Service and come up with common sense ways to protect the parks, the air quality in the region, and keep the West a beautiful place to visit.”

Director Hankins has come under fire, numerous times, for her oil and gas leasing plans next to Dinosaur Monument’s visitor center, near Mesa Verde National Park, perilously close to Denver’s drinking water supplies, and in the agricultural heart of North Fork Valley.

Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped Dir. Hankins from continuing to push to open these areas for oil and gas drilling (see graphic) – despite the risks to our water, public health, farms and economies. It’s time for Director Hankins to adopt a common sense approach to oil and gas leasing that includes up to date analysis, implementing national BLM reforms – to cut down on Colorado’s highest in the region lease protests- and taking into effect the concerns of local businesses, landowners and the National Parks Service.

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