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Progress Seen in BLM Public Land-Leasing Policies

July 25, 2012

DENVER - A report released Tuesday finds that the Bureau of Land Management is doing a better job than in the past when it comes to how public lands are used for oil and gas development in Colorado and the West.

The report, "Making the Grade (Almost)," finds that the new policies mean the needs of the public and wildlife are considered as important as those of the oil and gas industry.

Nada Culver, director of the Wilderness Society's BLM Action Center, says more public input means the leasing process is more environmentally conscious and less contentious.

"After a lease sale, leases are being issued with less delays. Protests are going from most of the leases in a sale being protested to less than 20 percent this year."

The report studied the first full year of oil and gas leasing reforms spurred by the Stiles Report. It says that while the changes are a positive step, gaps remain in the areas of transparency in leasing and drilling operations and agency support for one consistent regional policy for selecting lands for oil and gas development.

Culver says leasing is especially problematic in Colorado because the process doesn't conform to the BLM standards or use master leasing plans as neighboring states do.

"It's a new tool and it's not what they're used to doing, so there's a natural reluctance. They're just not taking the opportunity to make it a part of these planning initiatives. There's so many as ifs, likes and buts that it's really undermining the initiative itself."

The BLM policy echoes Colorado's toughest-in-the nation fracking disclosure law, which requires companies to file a report listing chemicals used in the process after a frack job is completed. But Culver says the BLM could do better.

"While they're looking at regulating fracking fluid in terms of disclosure of chemicals, they're not actually requiring disclosure before these chemicals are injected into the ground."

The changes in BLM leasing policies were spurred by a 2008 court ruling in Utah which found that the agency's decision-making process on onshore oil and gas leases was "fundamentally broken."

The full report is online at

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO