USFS, BLM to hold oil and gas workshop

With federally owned subsurface minerals soon becoming available for lease in the Chromo area, staff from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will offer a free public workshop for citizens to learn about split-estate rights, the federal leasing process, and oil and gas development on federal lands and private surface.

The workshop will be held from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m., Monday, Dec. 15, in the South Conference Room of the Pagosa Springs Community Center, 451 Hot Springs Blvd.

According to Matt Janowiak, assistant center manager for physical resources at the San Juan Public Lands Center in Durango, the Chromo-area leases are linked to three parcels of land totaling 2,721 acres with split-estate ownership that were to become available in November.

Split estate parcels occur when the surface is owned by a private party and the underlying minerals are owned by the federal government or another party.

After learning of the lease sale, Janowiak said the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners requested a 90-day deferral in order to allow property owners time to educate themselves about their rights, responsibilities, opportunities and the leasing process. Once the outreach process is complete, the BLM will offer the Chromo area leases at their February 2009 lease sale.

Josh Joswick, oil and gas coordinator for the environmental advocacy group the San Juan Citizens Alliance, said split estate parcels in Archuleta County are common.

“Generally speaking, someone owns the minerals under your property,” Joswick said.

According to BLM documents, the agency manages 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate nationwide, including approximately 58 million acres where the surface is privately owned.

With unprecedented efforts by the energy industry to ramp up coal bed methane and oil extraction in Archuleta County, the workshop appears timely and falls in line with other efforts to prepare for what some say could be an extraction blitz.

For example, the county planning commission continues to fine tune tighter oil and gas regulations that they say should better protect area landowners, water, wildlife and roads.

The revised regulations will go to the board of county commissioners for final approval Dec. 9.

In the meantime, citizens will have an opportunity to learn more about the ramifications of oil and gas extraction on split estate parcels during the BLM/Forest Service workshop.

No pre-registration is required for the event and the agenda is as follows:

3:30-5 p.m. — Informal open house with information tables hosted by BLM and U.S. Forest Service personnel.

5 p.m. — Welcome and introductions, Kevin Khung, USFS Pagosa District Ranger/BLM field manager.

5:15 p.m. — Brief history of oil and gas development in the Pagosa area, Glenn Raby, USFS/BLM geologist.

5:30 p.m. — Public lands planning, leasing, protests, stipulations, and split estate rights, Duane Spencer, Colorado BLM Fluid Minerals Branch chief.

6 p.m. — Oil and gas permitting, NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) and development overview, Walt Brown, USFS/BLM geologist.

6:15 p.m. — Inspection and enforcement on split-estate, Rick Rymerson, BLM Minerals staff chief, San Juan Public Lands Center.

6:30-7:30 p.m. — Question and answer session/open discussion.

The BLM posts notices of upcoming oil and gas lease sales and reviews comments and protests from the public prior to the sale. Based on public input, the BLM can choose to offer the parcels, defer them for additional analysis, or offer protested parcels with a notice to lessees that the parcels are under protest. Whether or not areas are available for oil and gas leasing, and under what conditions, are determined by the BLM Resource Management Plan. These plans are prepared with public involvement and environmental analysis.

The initial term for a federal oil and gas lease is 10 years, but production can extend the lease period. Successfully bidding on and acquiring the oil and gas lease gives the lessee or designated operator the right to enter and occupy as much of the surface as is reasonably required to explore, drill, and produce the oil and natural gas resources on the leasehold, subject to applicable federal laws, regulations, lease stipulations, and permit requirements.