Grand County drill leases halted

BLM notes the furor over 31,000 acres with little energy imprint.

By Steve Lipsher The Denver Post

 The federal government on Tuesday removed 23 oil-and-gas-exploration leases in Grand County from its upcoming sale after residents protested what they considered an unwarranted intrusion into unmarred country.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials announced that they would defer the Nov. 8 sale of 12,802 acres of BLM land and 18,276 acres of "split-estate" property - in which the landowner does not control the mineral rights beneath the ground - including scenic parcels just outside the county seat of Hot Sulphur Springs.

"We acknowledge that, with little federal oil-and-gas leasing in Grand County in recent years, all parties involved will benefit from additional discussions and outreach on the federal oil-and-gas leasing process," said BLM deputy state director Lynn Rust.

Granby Mayor Ted Wang expressed relief, saying that he recognized a groundswell of opposition to energy exploration in the fast-growing ranching and tourism region.

Wang and officials in four other Grand County towns indicated they had not been aware of the extent of the exploration that could occur and expressed concerns over the impacts to roads, housing, social services and the local economy.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife and environmental groups including Trout Unlimited also protested the leases.

Wildlife officials still harbor concerns about the leases proposed for parcels in Jackson, Routt and Moffat counties that could intrude into big-game habitat and undermine efforts to protect endangered fish.

The BLM plans to continue with sales of 135 parcels covering 129,726 acres across Colorado despite receiving protests on all of them, although no exploration will be allowed until those concerns are considered.

Grand County is not believed to harbor a significant profitable quantity of natural gas, a big reason that records say just one drilling permit has been issued there since 1988.