Feds say roadless rulemaking could cause conflicts
Several potential oil and gas development leases in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests (GMUG) were intended to be sold this summer but have been withdrawn to avoid complications with a state roadless rulemaking.
The state of Colorado is currently finishing up a set of regulations for the management of roadless areas, a directive initiated by governor Bill Owens and continued by governor Bill Ritter.
According to GMUG director of physical resources Randy Karstaedt, the Colorado Roadless Rule will be similar, but will supercede the 2001 Roadless Area Rule enacted by the federal government.
Fifteen oil and gas lease parcels in GMUG were scheduled for a lease sale in August, but on July 17 the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management announced the leases would be withdrawn. All 15 of the leases overlie the West Elk Coal Mine and would allow developers to capture the methane gas escaping from the mine. Eleven of the leases lie within an inventoried roadless area.
The release states, “To avoid any potential conflict with the final decisions that will be made in the Colorado Roadless Rule, the sale of the leases has been postponed.”
The Forest Service decides which oil and gas deposits can be leased, and the BLM acts as the leasing agent for federal lands. Statewide, the BLM accounts for 10 percent of oil and gas leasing activity, while the rest is on state-owned or private lands.
Karstaedt says the oil and gas leases may still be sold once the Colorado Roadless Rule is complete. He says the main difference between the two roadless rules could be in their regulatory standards. “We don’t envision the Colorado rulemaking will preclude this kind of gas leasing. What it might do is have different kinds of restrictions on how this gets done,” Karstaedt says. “We thought it would be prudent to withdraw those leases for a six- to eight-month period of time.”
High County Citizens’ Alliance public lands director Dan Morse says regardless of which roadless rule is in effect, the actual development of the leases could be tricky, particularly because they require a new capturing and processing methane gas that has so far been practiced only in other nations. “There’s an idea out there in the world that the BLM could lease the methane that comes from coal mines to capture it in some way and make it useful… That’s never been done before in the U.S.” Morse says.
Underground coal mines require the drilling of numerous shafts to the surface to vent explosive methane gas. Some countries have utilized refineries and pumping stations on the surface to capture the gas. Morse says he’s not sure how the gas would be captured in a roadless area. “If you lease in a roadless area after the rule was put in place, you get the lease with a no surface occupation clause… so it’s a little convoluted,” he says. “(The state) doesn’t want to encourage the Forest Service or BLM to do anything that would impact the roadless characteristics of the area.”
Karstaedt says GMUG anticipates the Colorado Roadless Rule will be finalized by the end of the year.