Oil & gas public lands management 101: How to put our farms, water, and national parks at risk

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Colorado State Director Helen Hankins has developed a pattern of offering controversial drilling plans, which when met with widespread public outcry are temporarily halted, only to be re-offered after the furor has died down.

Colorado BLM Drilling 101

In 2011 Dir. Hankins proposed oil and gas leasing in Park County at South Park, home to several large reservoirs for metro Denver, Colorado’s drinking water, serving over two million people.

When the City of Aurora raised serious concerns about the sale, including a lease parcel located within ¼ mile of the high water mark of a city reservoir, Hankins temporarily halted the lease plan. Unfortunately, in 2012, Hankins revived plans to lease South Park for oil and gas drilling. True to form, Hankins temporarily halted the oil and gas lease plans again after local elected officials, sportsmen and others raised significant concerns about the plans, including impacts to water quality, wildlife habitat and tourism.

In early 2012, Colorado BLM proposed drilling next to vineyards, orchards, organic farms and a dairy in the North Fork Valley. When local farmers, ranchers, businesses and residents overwhelmingly opposed the plan, Hankins, again, temporarily halted BLM’s plans to lease the area for oil and gas drilling.

Fast forward to the end of 2012, and Hankins – predictably – offered a similar plan that still threatened the Valley’s local economy and water supplies, and even included leasing land for oil and gas drilling near a public school. Residents, local business owners and others once again opposed the controversial plan, and widely criticized Hankins for basing her plan on outdated analysis and failing to pursue a balanced approach to energy development.  In early February 2013, Hankins again temporarily halted drilling plans in North Fork Valley.

Name this tune: In late 2012, Colorado BLM announced plans to lease land for oil and gas drilling next to Dinosaur National Monument’s visitor center and along its southern entrance, as well as near Mesa Verde National Park. BLM’s proposal would mean that visitors could see drill rigs along with 149 million year old fossils, and create more air quality problems for Mesa Verde National Park – which is already beset with pollution problems. This time, the former Superintendent of Dinosaur National Monument, National Parks Service, and La Plata County joined the chorus of locals who raised serious concerns the drilling proposals. And, once again, Hankins halted the lease plans.

Unfortunately, since then, statements from Dir. Hankins’ staff indicate that this stoppage is temporary. In March, the local Colorado BLM assistant field manager said that the drilling leases near Mesa Verde National Park could be back on the auction block as early as this summer.

Dir. Hankins needs to end this contentious cycle of offering controversial oil and gas drilling leases, deferring them when locals rise up, and then trying to drive them back through later when protests have died down.

Dir. Hankins needs to adopt a new curriculum. She needs a smart-from-the-start approach that addresses the concerns of local residents, business owners, and the many industries that drive Colorado’s economy. She needs to adopt a balanced approach that protects the state’s drinking water, farms and national parks.

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.
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