Workshop on oil and gas leasing, mineral rights will be set in January

Although staff from the Pagosa Ranger District/Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Field Office postponed Monday’s free public workshop on oil and gas leasing, split-estate rights, the federal leasing process, and oil and gas development on federal lands with private surface ownership, landowners will have another opportunity to attend a workshop in January.

According to Forest Service/BLM staff, the meeting was postponed after the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for western Colorado, including the Pagosa Springs area.

The workshop was created — in part — as a response to an Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners’ request that the BLM defer leasing subsurface minerals under certain parcels in the Chromo area until residents could educate themselves about their rights, responsibilities, opportunities and the leasing process.

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 Archuleta County commissioners requested a 90-day deferral in order to allow property owners time to educate themselves. As part of the process, the Forest Service and BLM agreed to engage in an outreach program, after which the BLM could offer the leases during their February 2009 lease sale.

With Monday’s workshop postponed to sometime in January, Janowiak said the lease deferral period might also be pushed back, depending on what transpires during the January meeting.

For example, Janowiak said, if new information is brought forward indicating shifts in resource or land management, those changing conditions would be analyzed and could spark another deferral. Janowiak said the practice is common for the BLM and Forest Service.

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.

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.

For information, contact Janowiak at (970) 385-1378.

james@pagosasun.com