Huerfano officials seek oil/gas lease delay


VALLEY — Related to pending oil/gas leases that have drawn some concern from local residents, the Huerfano County commissioners on Tuesday voted to ask for a delay of the oil and natural gas leases on the other side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains from the Great Sand Dunes.

The commissioners requested the delay until the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) completes a new Resource Management Plan (RMP) in the area, which may or may not be something the BLM is inclined to do. In January, the BLM issued an Instruction Memorandum to state field offices indicating that parcel reviews will not “routinely defer leasing” while awaiting a new RMP.

The proposed parcels of land up for a lease sale this September are on BLM’s multiple-use public lands or are federal minerals managed by BLM under private surface land. The sale notice will go out July 20 with a 10-day lease sale protest period following.

The 11 parcels nearest the Valley, totaling 18,358 acres, are in Huerfano County. The parcels are all east of the Sangre de Cristo mountains and outside of the boundaries of the national park.

Aaron Johnson, vice president of public affairs for Western Energy Alliance, responded to the Huerfano County commissioners’ action Tuesday by referring to the BLM’s January memo stating “It is BLM policy that existing land use plan decisions remain in effect until an amendment or revision is complete or approved. Therefore, the BLM will not routinely defer leasing when waiting for an RMP amendment or revision to be signed. Rather, when making leasing decisions, the BLM will exercise its discretion consistent with existing RMPs and the state director should consult with the Washington Office before deciding to defer leasing of any parcels.”

Johnson also said the regional head of the Environmental Protection Agency had stated his agency would not request the lease sale to be delayed after it completed an environmental assessment of the area.

Some San Luis Valley residents and environmental groups have expressed some concerns over the proposed lease sales because of their proximity to the Valley and the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. “As the crow flies,” over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, potential parcels up for oil/gas leases by the Bureau of Land Management are within a few miles of the national park.

Earlier this year Anna Lee Vargas, director, Project Management and Community Outreach for Conejos Clean Water said although her organization realized the parcels are on the other side of the Sangre de Cristos in Huerfano County, “We are so conscious as community members of our land and our water, air quality, water quality. We just don’t want anything to impact that.”

Some of the concerns Conejos Clean Water expressed with respect to the potential oil and gas leases revolved around air quality, light and noise pollution and wildlife impacts.

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