The battle over oil and gas leasing on public lands in the West is being most fiercely fought in Colorado, where in the past five years, nine of every 10 acres offered for drilling have been protested.
In 2012, proposed lease acreage in Colorado drew formal challenges, called protests, at a far greater rate than that of three neighboring states, according to federal Bureau of Land Management data.
The BLM, which oversees public- lands oil and gas leasing, is set to hold its largest Colorado sale in four years - for 109,000 acres spread across the state - on Feb. 12. It has received 175 protests.
The volleys of protest from communities, wildlife officials and environmental groups are sparked, they say, by an inadequate analysis of drilling impacts in the state and insufficient protection of public lands.
For the agency and the oil-and-gas industry, the battle has bogged down the process of making land - as required by law - available for development in Colorado.
"The question is: Who should get the benefits of public lands?" said Nada Culver, an attorney with the Wilderness Society. "Is it the public or private companies?"
The BLM has a mandate to manage public lands for multiple uses, including mining, grazing and drilling, said Helen Hankins, the Colorado BLM director.
In 2012, oil and gas lease bonuses, royalties and rentals generated $158 million for state coffers, according to the BLM.
"There are a few things we do that are white hat and everyone likes, but there are a lot of things we do where there are often very polar views," Hankins said.
For the oil-and-gas industry, the battle is a huge barrier, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade group.
Laboring under natural-gas prices that hit a 10-year low last April, the number of well starts in the six biggest western Colorado oil-and-gas counties dropped 75 percent between 2008 and 2012 to 566, according to state figures.
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