Landowners say feds should do better job alerting them about drilling, mining
June 15, 2005
DENVER ” When they bought 240 hilly, brushy acres in southwestern Colorado 15 years ago, Jean and Al Ewing knew the federal government could one day auction off the minerals beneath it ” they just didn’t expect to hear about it in an e-mail from a neighbor while they were out of the country.
“The only reason we happened to find out was because a neighbor happened to come across it in some environmental publication,” Jean Ewing said in a telephone interview from her home 12 miles north of Ridgway.
After an outcry from landowners, environmentalists and a congressman, the Bureau of Land Management last month delayed the sale of mineral rights under 17,000 acres in Colorado, including the Ewings’ property and land near Dinosaur National Monument in northwestern Colorado.
But the Ewings and others say the federal government needs a better system to alert owners in case they want to make a case against drilling and mining on their property.
The dispute is another symptom of the “split estate” ” when one party owns the land but another owns the oil, natural gas or other minerals underneath. High gas prices and the push for more domestic energy have spurred record drilling in gas-rich western Colorado.
Jean Ewing and her husband now have 360 acres among adobe-colored rocks and pinon- and juniper-covered hillsides. The snowy San Juan Mountains hover in the distance and the Uncompaghre River flows about a mile away.
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They’ve considered placing a conservation easement on their property to preserve it as open space, but aren’t sure if a land trust would be interested if it’s leased to a gas company.
The BLM could offer a mineral lease on their land, and the other 17,000 acres, as early as Aug. 11, its next quarterly auction.
Jean Ewing and others say the agency should give individual landowners and the public plenty of notice.
“If we had known about this months in advance, we could have done what we’re now doing: presenting a factual presentation to BLM,” she said.
That information includes a statement from a local geologist saying there’s no potential for oil and gas under the land.
Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., who criticized the BLM’s handling of the Ewings’ land and other parcels, is prepared to introduce legislation requiring the agency to notify each landowner with a split estate of impending sales, said his spokesman, Nayyera Haq.
For now, Haq said, the BLM seems interested in improving outreach.
Salazar and other elected officials said people got little notice of the earlier sale because computer problems knocked BLM websites off-line starting in April.
BLM spokeswoman Theresa Sauer said the BLM follows the law on informing the public and is talking to offices in other states to come up with more ideas. She said the agency “is happy to send out a copy” of information people want.
Notices of the last sale were posted in field offices 45 days before the auction. Officials said the information has been posted on the web as a courtesy and will be put on the national BLM site for the next sale.