The Bureau of Land Management this week leased the mineral rights to more than 150,000 acres of public land in Colorado.
The leases, which the bureau auctioned Thursday, brought in $6.8 million for the BLM.
Environmental groups have protested many of the leases.
Before the bureau allows drilling on any of the protested areas, the disputes must be settled.
"Gas production from Colorado's federal lands continue to play an important part in meeting the nation' s energy needs," said Lynn Rust, assistant state director for the Colorado BLM. "However, our focus is on smart planning and working with industry to use best practices to reduce environmental impacts on public and private lands."
The mineral rights near the habitat of one of the nation's most-endangered species was included in this week's sale.
The Bureau sold the rights to about 12,000 acres an area used by the black-footed ferret recovery project east of Massadona, near the Moffat County-Rio Blanco County line.
The Bureau offered 20 parcels of land within the recovery project for lease, but only eight were bid on and sold at Thursday's auction.
The leases within the ferret recovery project brought in $205,641 for BLM.
The black-footed ferret is one of the most endangered animals in the world and was once thought to be extinct.
The ferret recovery program is a joint venture of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Scientists estimate about 30 of the meat-eating animals live in prairie dog burrows in the recovery project area.
Biologists with the ferret recovery project have said they aren't sure how the ferrets will respond to oil and natural-gas drilling in their backyard.
The BLM has been under fire since March from environmental groups upset with its decision to allow drilling in ferret habitat.
Theresa Sauer, a spokeswoman for the Colorado BLM, said the bureau has restrictions in place for drilling in the ferret recovery area. The restrictions say drillers must take steps to mitigate damage to ferret habitat, Sauer said.
Rick Krueger, a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service involved in the ferret recovery project, said he wasn't surprised that the area was leased.
Krueger said he plans to work with the BLM to make sure that if the area is drilled, precautions are taken.
"We'll be actively involved with the BLM," Krueger said.
The four companies that purchased the mineral rights in the ferret habitat are based on the Front Range. None of their representatives returned calls for comment Friday.
Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.