Areas in yellow denote the BLM land in the Tes Rios District.

(Map courtesy BLM)

Some 441,000 acres of public land would be available for oil and gas drilling leases under a new plan released Friday by the Bureau of Land Management.

In addition, 319,957 acres of sub-surface mineral rights on private property in the eight-county area would also be available for leasing under the Tres Rios Management Resource Management Plan, which directs everything from oil and gas leasing to recreation and ranching. Its publication marks the end of a years-long planning process that involved extensive public comment.

The counties affected are: Archuleta, Dolores, Hinsdale, La Plata, Montezuma, Montrose, San Juan, and San Miguel. The planning area does not include lands in the proclaimed boundary of BLM’s Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. 

The sub-surface mineral rights on private property concern La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt.

“Over 90 percent of Tres Rios is open for [oil and gas] development,” said Lachelt, who served as co-chair of the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force. In particular, she said she’s concerned about the subsurface mineral rights owned by the BLM that are underneath private property. La Plata County had called for the BLM to conduct a master leasing plan, which would have initiated a more comprehensive review of mineral rights in the area.

“Sadly in the final resource management plan, the BLM did not agree to do a master leasing plan,” Lachelt said.

BLM Public Affairs Specialist Shannon Borders was quick to point out that the planning document does not issue leasing decisions.

“Those come when we receive application for permit to drill,” Borders said.

Tom Pittinger, with Park Rangers for Our Lands, says he wanted to see a more comprehensive drilling management plan that would have studied proximity of proposed wells to water sources.

“It’s disappointing," he said. “Our concern is that this is being done very piecemeal."

In San Juan County, the management plan will re-designate 460 acres of a recreation area to allow snowmobiles under certain conditions. The plan will close two grazing allotments because they overlap with a bighorn sheep range.

The formal process for establishing the management plan is now complete. But if someone is adversely affected, they can follow an appeal process outlined at www.gpo.gov.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct number of acres of public land available for oil and gas drilling leases under the new plan.