New BLM director faces Colorado leasing protests

The US Senate voted to confirm James L. Caswell as US BLM director on Aug. 3 after Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) removed the hold he had placed on the nomination (OGJ, Aug. 6, 2007, Newsletter).

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, Aug. 10 -- The US Senate voted to confirm James L. Caswell as US Bureau of Land Management director on Aug. 3 after Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) removed the hold he had placed on the nomination (OGJ, Aug. 6, 2007, Newsletter). But Caswell and the US Department of Interior agency face other protests about oil and gas leasing from Colorado state and local government officials as well as other members of its congressional delegation.

Salazar said that he would allow the nomination to proceed because US Sec. of the Interior Dirk A. Kempthorne agreed to give Colorado 120 days to review and comment on BLM's plan to issue oil and gas leases on the Roan Plateau near Grand Junction.

"What is just as important is what [DOI] does after the 120-day period. Sec. Kempthorne gave me his commitment that BLM would respond in good faith to the comments and concerns raised during the review period and address them," Salazar said.

The Senate confirmed Caswell's nomination one day before the House passed a broad energy bill that included language banning surface occupancy on the Roan Plateau if BLM issues leases. Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.), Sen. Salazar's brother, and Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) worked to insert the provision when HR 3221 was in the Rules Committee.

"While I was pleased to learn that [DOI] finally decided to delay leasing the top of the Roan Plateau, I believe we must continue to strike a balance," said Rep. Salazar on Aug. 4. "The language protecting the top of the Roan in the energy bill does just that." He and Udall said it was a compromise, but oil and gas industry and other groups said it effectively locks up about 9 tcf of onshore natural gas.

Two days later, Rep. Salazar asked Colorado State BLM Director Sally Wisely to defer offering nine parcels in the San Luis Hills area of Conejos and Costilla counties as part of a scheduled Aug. 9 lease sale. Many local residents, including surface landholders and grazing permit holders, did not learn of the sale until a July 23 community meeting, he explained.

The federal agency already had decided to defer leasing the parcels and one other unrelated tract, a Colorado BLM spokesman told OGJ. "It's an area that had seen very little oil and gas activity in recent years. We felt that we needed more time to educate the people there about the process and its safeguards," he said, adding that 99 other parcels covering some 72,000 acres were offered.

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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