BLM rules cut protest period

A new Bureau of Land Management policy means citizens have 30 days instead of 45 to protest oil- and gas-lease sales.

Under the new rules, which went into effect in June, protests must be filed 15 days before the date of a sale. BLM's old policy allowed protests until the day of the sale. Sales notices will continue to be posted 45 days before lease sales.

BLM holds oil and gas lease sales quarterly. The Nov. 10 sale, which was announced Sept. 26, will be the first one in Colorado since the rules changed. Citizens have until Oct. 26 to protest the sale of any of the 73,263 acres being offered.

BLM officials say the old policy didn't give the bureau enough time to review protests before making a sale. As a result, some sales were made but weren't finalized until after the protests were investigated.

Duane Spencer, branch chief of fluid minerals for the Colorado BLM, said late protests were not the norm, but they happened enough to be a problem for the bureau.

"It just was not working well," Spencer said about the old system.

The new rules could mean the BLM won't have to delay sales of some parcels.

"We hope that some protests could be cleared up before the sale," Spencer said. But, he said some sales still will have to be deferred until protests are reviewed.

Spencer said the new rules allow the BLM to inform buyers that certain parcels are being protested before the sale.

The new rules also say protests must be filed by mail or by fax and that protests must be signed.

Spencer said that with the prevalence of e-mail, the number of protests in the past three years has increased by 600 percent.

Many of the e-mailed protests are general, "blanket protests" Spencer said. These protests, he said, don't address specific concerns about particular parcels, but more general concerns about oil and gas extraction.

But environmentalists say that cutting back the protest period by 30 percent will make an already laborious process even more difficult.

"I am uncomfortable with it effectively shortening what is the public's time to review the document," said Reed Morris of the Colorado Wilderness Network in Craig.

Morris, who has worked on mineral-lease protests in the past, said the documents announcing lease sales are very technical. He said it can be hard to relate parcels listed by their legal descriptions to the actual parcels on a map.

"It is a very cumbersome process for the public already," Morris said.

To make up for the 15 fewer days citizens have to protest, Morris said the BLM should announce sales further in advance than the 45 days the law requires.

"As the parcels included in the quarterly sales have been increasingly controversial over the last few years, from including important habitat for Gunnison Sage Grouse, split-estate lands, and citizen-proposed wilderness areas, BLM going above the minimum the law requires and providing an ample opportunity for the public to be involved would be prudent," Morris said.

Locally, the BLM Little Snake Field Office in Craig doesn't expect the new rules to have much of an effect.

Jerry Strahan, assistant field manager for the Little Snake Field Office, said because protests must be filed with the BLM state office in Denver, Little Snake won't be effected by the changes.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or bjohansson@craigdailypress.com.

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