Group discusses mineral leases

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When the Bureau of Land Management announced plans last month to offer more than 100,000 acres of land in Moffat County for mineral leasing, the calls to the Colorado Wilderness Network in Craig starting pouring in.

Reed Morris, a public lands advocate at the conservation group, said citizens weren't sure what mineral leasing would mean for them and the area's public lands.

"In talking with citizens, we realized there isn't a lot of knowledge on how this process works," Morris said.

Wednesday night the Wilderness Network hosted a public forum at the Center of Craig to explain how the leasing process works and how the public can be involved.

The Wilderness Network doesn't oppose mineral leasing, Morris said. But the environmental group does oppose drilling in certain areas.

The organization's goal at Wednesday's forum, which had about 20 attendees, was to explain how the public can be involved in the mineral leasing process, not to convince people that drilling is bad, said Luke Schafer, a public lands advocate at the Wilderness Network.

"We're not here to preach," Shafer said. "We're here to make sure you know your rights."

Those rights include filing an official protest with the BLM.

For the May lease sale, protests must be filed with the BLM's Lakewood office by Wednesday.

But, Schafer said, protesting isn't always an effective way to stop BLM from leasing an area, or even to put restrictions on how and when the drilling will occur.

"There isn't a great track record of protests proceeding," Schafer said.

The best way for citizens to have an effect on whether drilling will occur is by taking part in the bureau's resource management planning process, which is when BLM decides how to manage their lands for the next 10 to 20 years.

The bureau's Little Snake Field Office in Craig is updating its resource management plan.

Mineral lease sales occur four times annually.

Dan W. Martin, a former BLM employee and candidate for Moffat county commissioner, pointed out at Wednesday's forum that just because the bureau offers an area for leasing, it doesn't necessarily mean the area will be drilled.

Martin said in his experience, only a small percentage of leased acres are ever drilled.

But, Schafer said, as long as energy prices are on the rise, companies will be more likely to drill in areas that they once would have left alone.

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