New Castle wildlife area gas leases contested | SummitDaily.com

New Castle wildlife area gas leases contested

Phillip Yates
eagle county correspondent

NEW CASTLE ” The Bureau of Land Management on Thursday sold a federal

mineral lease underneath the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area near New

Castle even though the Colorado Division of Wildlife had asked the agency to

delay the sale indefinitely.

It delayed some other leases in the area at the DOW’s request.

DOW director Thomas Remington sent a letter to the BLM in late January,

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writing that the area “provides crucial winter range for deer and elk that

are finding fewer and fewer places to inhabit without conflict.”

“It is for these reasons the (DOW) requests that the sale of the lease

parcel COC72107 be deferred indefinitely,” Remington wrote.

The agency also asked that other leases underneath the state wildlife area

be delayed until lease stipulations could be updated to include the “best

available information to protect” species that thrive in the wildlife area.

Although the BLM deferred three leases from inclusion in the Thursday lease

sale at the request of the DOW, the sale of the parcel the agency

specifically wanted to see “deferred indefinitely” went through.

That 360-parcel was sold for $2,400 an acre to Meadow Ridge No. 3 LLC, said

Jamie Gardner, a spokeswoman for the BLM. Another 45-acre parcel was sold

for $3,100 an acre to Exxon.

Thursday’s lease sale of 35 parcels in Colorado brought in $3.9 million,

with 48 percent of the total going back to the state, according to the BLM.

Protesting the leases

Gardner said the BLM treated the DOW letter seeking to delay the sale of the

leases as a protest. All 35 parcels up for sale during the Thursday sale

were under protest, with the DOW protesting the leasing of 27 parcels.

Before the lease sale, the BLM told all the bidders that the leases were

under protest, and that those objections would have to be resolved before

the leases are granted. If the BLM upholds a protest, the money for the

lease is given back to the bidder, Gardner said.

All the federal mineral leases underneath the Garfield Creek State Wildlife

Area have a no-surface-occupancy stipulation, Gardner said. That means gas

companies would have to directionally drill from other areas to extract the

natural gas to minimize surface disturbances. However, the BLM can make

exceptions to that stipulation in consultation with the DOW.

Randy Hampton, a spokesman for the DOW, said the agency will oppose any

exceptions to the no-surface-occupancy stipulation. He said since the agency

does not own the mineral rights below the state wildlife area, DOW officials

knew the leasing of the parcel they wanted protected was a possibility.

“We raised our concerns to the BLM, but the reality is that we don’t own

those mineral rights,” Hampton said. “We raised (our) concerns, and they

chose not to consider that request.”

Gardner said the BLM had an initial review with the DOW about the leases

before the agency even put up a notice about the sale in December.

Who owns the rights under the habitat?

Although the DOW owns the land in the state wildlife area and uses it for

elk and deer habitat, it cannot prevent drilling there because it does not

own the mineral rights beneath the surface. Those mineral rights belong to

multiple owners, including one person who owns a large share of the mineral

rights, the federal government and two or three other owners.

The sale of the federal mineral rights comes after Denver-based Orion Energy

Partners has begun making preliminary preparations to drill in the middle of

the wildlife area. The company has said it plans to drill in the area at a

time when it would not impact the wildlife area.

The DOW has issued a special use permit to the company for limited surveying

work for future gas drilling operations in the area. Two former DOW wildlife

biologists now working on behalf of Orion were in the area in January to

analyze potential environmental and wildlife impacts even though the area is

currently closed as elk and deer winter in its low-elevation region.

Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117,pyates@postindependent.com