Lease parcels spur controversy

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Signs of oil and gas development may someday mark Colorado's entrance road to Dinosaur National Monument.

Two parcels near the monument were put up for lease recently during one the Bureau of Land Management's quarterly sales. However, one parcel was at least temporarily retracted through the work of a local environmental group.

The BLM leased a 200-acre parcel that sits on an uplift above an overlook into Bull Canyon along Harpers Corner Drive -- an area that otherwise is known as the Escalante Overlook.

BLM retracted an 868-acre parcel that infringed on a citizen-proposed wilderness area, said Luke Schafer with the Colorado Wilderness Network. The environmental group presented the BLM with information about the site that may change conditions on whether the government agency can lease the parcel.

The BLM is allowed to put parcels in the area up for lease to oil and gas companies in accordance with a Resource Management Plan drafted in 1997. However, the agency is required to consider any new information that is presented to them before putting a site up for lease.

Vern Rholl, the BLM's White River Resoure Areas' natural resource specialist, said BLM officials probably would decide in the next few weeks whether to accept the environmental group's information as reason to permanently take the parcel off the table for leasing.

"We want them to further review whether it's feasible and proper to lease that parcel," Schafer said.

Dinosaur resident Leona Hemmerich lamented the lease sale of parcel along Harpers Corner Scenic Drive. She said the presence of oil and gas development along the drive would hinder its aesthetic value. Hemmerich also questioned whether drilling in the area would hurt the town's water supply, which is fed by artesian wells.

"Let the oil wells go in some places, but not on a scenic drive," she said.

Moffat County Com-missioner Saed Tayyara said drilling anywhere in the county benefits all taxpayers. Oil and gas companies make up Moffat County's top 10 taxpayers and absorb more than 75 percent of taxes that residents otherwise would have to pay.

"Why freeze that area when it could benefit the county as a whole," he said. "That money can go to the schools."

Rholl described the potential as "low" for companies to find oil and gas in the general area north of U.S. Highway 40, such as in the Harpers Corner Drive area.

He said that the BLM's White River area has leased about 80 percent of its lands for oil and gas development.

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