Oil and gas industry has access to more land in CO than all other Rocky Mountain states

According to our new analysis, the oil and gas industry owns and enjoys access to more federal lands in Colorado than nearly any other state in the Rockies.

In fact, almost one-third of the land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Colorado has already been leased for oil and gas development.  And over 11.8 million acres of land—about 93 percent of the federally-controlled mineral estate—has been opened for leasing by Colorado BLM.

Yet, the industry continues to clamor for even more access, even though it is using little of what it has.  For example, the industry is sitting on—not producing oil and gas from—millions of acres of federal leases in Colorado.  A full two-thirds of the industry’s holdings in the state are currently idle.  And the industry has similarly failed to drill over 700 federally-approved wells.

Unfortunately, Colorado BLM seems more interested in accommodating the industry’s wishes, than in protecting the wilderness, wildlife and outdoor lifestyle that are prized by so many Coloradans.

Over the past two years, and over objections from a broad range of groups, citizens and, in some cases, local governments, the Colorado BLM has repeatedly moved forward with leasing in sensitive areas throughout the state, including on wilderness-quality lands in northwest Colorado, on the doorstep of Dinosaur National Monument and among the organic farms and vineyards of the North Fork Valley.  This has led to widespread protests from the public; in FY 2012, as the analysis shows, Colorado BLM received protests on 85 percent of its leases, which far exceeds national and regional trends.

Moreover, Colorado BLM has done so using resource management plans that date to the early 1990s.  This makes Colorado’s RMPs the oldest in the Rockies, and ill-equipped to address the impacts of widespread drilling.  Perhaps even more troubling, Colorado BLM is in the midst of a long overdue—and much needed—effort to update its RMPs.  That effort encompasses about 4.1 million acres or half of the lands managed by Colorado BLM, and is being undermined by the leasing decisions of the state office. 

This current analysis builds on our evaluation of the BLM's efforts to reform their leasing plans under the Obama Administration. In our report, Making the Grade, we tracked the progress—and the work yet to be done—by the BLM to fully implement recommendations identified in a 2009 agency review of its flawed federal leasing program. In Colorado we see that there is yet a lot of work to be done to guide energy development away from lands that could be permanently scarred if leased.