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.
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.
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.