Pattern of protests

Auctions draw action from environmentalists

By Friday morning, Beverly Derringer, fluid mineral officer at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Denver office, had not received a single protest on proposed leases for the land agency's upcoming auction.

She didn't expect the silence to last.

Nor should she, if protests of the last mineral lease auction are any indication of what's to come during this auction.

"All but a very small percentage were protested," she said.

For the last auction of 2004, the Little Snake Resource Area field office, which covers most of Moffat County, nominated eight parcels along the Wyoming border for auction. The Denver-based environmental group Center for Native Ecosystems plans to protest seven of those leases.

The White River Field Office, which encompasses Rio Blanco County and the southwest corner of Moffat County, nominated four parcels for auction. Center for Native Ecosystems members plan to protest two of those parcels, and wilderness organizations plan to protest the other two.

These groups must protest the leases before the auction opens at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Denver. But as environmental groups prepare their latest protests, the BLM still hasn't resolved any of the last protests.

The Center for Native Ecosystems is protesting the Little Snake proposed leases for the same reason the group protested the last auction's leases. They are concerned that gas drilling could adversely affect white-tailed prairie dog colonies and greater sage grouse dancing grounds, CNE biologist Erin Robertson said. CNE has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list both animals as endangered species.

The situation has reached the point where protests have become part of the mineral development process, albeit a slow part, Fred Julander, president of Julander Energy Co. said in August.

But CNE isn't against gas drilling, Robertson said. The group wants critical habitat for potentially endangered species protected.

To that effect, they've nominated as an area of critical environmental concern the area the white tailed prairie dog colonies are in. The BLM won't make a formal decision on that nomination until its revised resource management plan is finished.

Even if the BLM agrees with CNE's nomination, the area of critical environmental concern designation won't necessarily be closed to drilling. The BLM will draft a management plan specific to that area. CNE has asked them to include no surface occupancy clauses in leases there, meaning energy companies can drill for minerals under the surface, but the well pads must be outside the area, and minerals must be accessed through technologies such as directional drilling.

Reed Morris of the Colorado Wilderness Network said he was glad to see the Little Snake Field Office had not nominated any proposed wilderness areas for leasing during 2004.

Several citizens-proposed wilderness areas exist in Moffat County, and the BLM has not considered designating any of them as wilderness yet. Like the areas of critical environmental concern, proposed wildernesses won't be considered until the resource management plan is finished.

But two White River nominated parcels intersect proposed wilderness areas. Twenty acres of one parcel intersect the Dragon Canyon proposed wilderness, and a similarly small amount of acreage intersects the Big Ridge proposed wilderness.

"It's a good candidate for the BLM to show they are for multiple use and conservation-energy development balance," Morris said.

It would be easy for the BLM to amend the leases so the parcels no longer intersect proposed wilderness, Morris said. But if the BLM chooses to keep the protested sections in the auction, the agency could at least add no surface occupancy clauses to the lease, he said.

It is unlikely that any of the protests will be resolved before the next auction in February.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.