Zinke cites citizen concerns as upcoming lease sales are changed

The US Bureau of Land Management has removed some south-central Montana parcels from an upcoming oil and gas lease sale to evaluate potential environmental impacts, the agency’s Montana-Dakotas state office said on Mar. 5.

The US Bureau of Land Management has removed some south-central Montana parcels from an upcoming oil and gas lease sale to evaluate potential environmental impacts, the agency’s Montana-Dakotas state office said on Mar. 5. Its announcement came 3 days after US Sec. of the Interior Ryan Zinke ordered the agency’s New Mexico office to defer its Mar. 8 lease sale near the Chaco Culture National Historical Park so an analysis of more than 5,000 cultural sites in the area could be completed.

“Multiple use is about balance. I’ve always said there are places where it is appropriate to develop and where it’s not,” Zinke said following the announcement. “This area certainly deserves more study, and appropriately we have decided to defer [these parcels].”

BLM had proposed offering 109 parcels covering nearly 63,500 acres in a Mar. 12-13 online auction. The scattered parcels stretch across central Montana from the Canadian border to the Wyoming state line, the agency’s state office in Billings said. BLM has decided to defer the rights to explore for oil and gas on 26 parcels and on a portion of two more, totaling about 17,300 acres. The parcels are near the city of Livingston, and in the foothills surrounding the Absaroka and Beartooth mountain ranges.

It said it would review the current Resource Management Plans for the Butte and Billings field offices. The staff will further evaluate how these plans provide the appropriate level of protection for parcels made available for oil and gas leases. This evaluation will inform whether the protection measures need to be updated, modified, or changed for the unique local conditions, the BLM Montana-Dakotas state office indicated.

Eighty-three remaining parcels covering nearly 46,200 acres will be offered in an upcoming lease sale, it added. Information on the parcels including details on how to register in advance as a bidder is available at www.energynet.com.

Concerns in New Mexico

Zinke said on Mar. 2 that he decided to postpone the New Mexico sale after hearing from local Indian tribes, the states’ two US senators, historic preservation experts, and other stakeholders. “My job is to make sure that the local voices are heard, and the state and national interests are reflected. In this case, there is some concern about the proximity to Chaco of some of the leases and the uncertainty about cultural impacts.”

The proposed lease sale includes 25 parcels covering 4,434 acres within Rio Arriba, Sandoval, and San Juan counties in northwestern New Mexico. The surface ownership of the proposed parcels includes private land (2,033 acres), BLM-managed public land (1,031 acres), and tribal trust land (1,370 acres of federal minerals only), BLM said.

“We understand the cultural importance of this area, and the need to gather additional information about this landscape before holding a lease sale,” said BLM New Mexico Acting State Director Aden Seidlitz.

Seidlitz said ahead of this scheduled sale that the agency has worked with the consulting parties under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act on all of the proposed parcels. BLM must complete an extensive cultural report, which will be used to support its findings of how oil and gas leasing will affect the proposed leasing area, he explained. Once the analysis is complete, it will pursue offering parcels which have been deemed appropriate for leasing, he said.

US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Minority Member Maria E. Cantwell (D-Wash.) and 20 other Senate Democrats, along with Independents Angus E. King (Me.) and Bernard Sanders (Vt.), asked Zinke for an extension for submitting comments on the Draft Proposed 2019-24 US Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program and on scoping for its required programmatic environmental impact statement.

“We believe a 60-day extension of the deadline for comments is necessary to allow for more public hearings in coastal areas and to give the public sufficient time to submit comments on offshore drilling proposed for nearly the entire OCS, encompassing over 90% of its total OCS acreage, the largest number of potential offshore lease sales ever proposed,” the senators said in their Mar. 5 letter.

They also requested additional public meetings in rural and coastal communities in each affected state and the opportunity for the public to offer formal oral testimony at public meetings.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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