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BLM should be less ‘discreet’ about oil and gas leases

The sudden revelation that about 31,000 acres of public land in Grand County will go on the sales block Nov. 8 for possible oil and gas leasing raises a host of questions, not least of which is why the issue arose as a revelation rather than in a more deliberate manner.

County and municipal officials ” and quite a few citizens ” were caught off guard earlier this month when they found out about the impending sales. Given the economic, environmental and social consequences that accompany energy development, it would have been far preferable for this issue to have been placed clearly in public view long ago.

For instance, the posting date for this particular sale was Sept. 7. But to discover that or any other information about the potential leases, one must plumb the depths of the BLM’s Kremmling Field Office Web site. Meanwhile, such burning issues as a North Park rancher winning a range stewardship award are announced in plain view on the Web site’s home page.

Given what is at stake, the BLM would have done well to publicize this issue in a more conspicuous way. Then again, perhaps the volatile nature of the issue is why it was treated with such, uh, discretion.

In any event, now that the potential leases are on the radar screen, many other questions need to be addressed, and in short order, as the protest deadline for the sale is Oct. 24.

The bulk of the land included in the Nov. 8 sale is north of U.S. 40 between Granby and Parshall. A smaller parcel is south of the highway, and all the leases are close enough to the valley that immediate concerns about water quality in the Colorado River arise.

Other environmental concerns include what effects, if any, energy development might have on wildlife, recreational values, agriculture, air quality, forest health and increased potential for wildfire.

Beyond that, perhaps the biggest concern is what could happen economically and socially if the leases pan out and drilling begins in earnest as it has in much of northwestern Colorado. Skyrocketing living costs, tight labor markets, unbridled growth and crowds have been the calling cards of energy development elsewhere as the Piceance Basin has become a gas-drilling pin cushion for the sake of national energy production.

In light of Grand County’s already robust growth, such prospects are about as welcome to many people here as the Rocky Mountain pine beetle. Yet, in the greater scheme of things the issue is far from black and white.

First off, don’t blame the BLM. Officials in Kremmling are merely carrying out their duties. The agency takes its marching orders from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and those orders at the moment couldn’t be more clear: Develop U.S. energy resources posthaste and with little regard to other considerations.

Of course, nothing may ever come of these leases. Just because they are put up for sale doesn’t mean anyone will buy them. And just because someone buys them doesn’t mean they will be developed.

The issue at hand is that local officials and citizens need to be vigilant about tracking BLM energy leasing and weighing in when they feel our interests may be in jeopardy. And there’s no better place to begin than with this sale.


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