Although this is the third BLM lease sale involving land in Huerfano County since 2008, the lease sale caught many residents of Huerfano County by surprise. Citizens for Huerfano County (CHC) learned of the proposed sale only a few weeks before the Sept. 12 deadline to respond.
With little time to waste, CHC decided to file a formal protest on all 14 parcels being offered. According to the BLM rules, parcels may be withdrawn or deferred if new information becomes available to the agency that was not previously identified prior to the lease sale.
In pouring over the draft BLM Environmental Assessment (EA), comments very generously shared by the Center for Native Ecosystems and Division of Wildlife and new information coming to light about impacts from oil and gas development, CHC consultant Ceal Smith was able to identify numerous substantive reasons for the BLM to withdraw or defer all 14 of the Huerfano County parcels. Most, however, centered around three main issues:
- Inadequate analysis of impacts as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). One of the most glaring weaknesses of BLM's analysis is that it portends to only consider the effects of the lease sale, not the subsequent actions and impacts [i.e. potentially large scale oil and gas drilling!] enabled by the act of leasing as required by NEPA. The BLM concluded there would be no significant adverse impacts on the local economy, air and water quality and other public health parameters yet they failed to provide concrete analysis or scientific evidence for such a conclusion. Cumulative effects analysis and proposed safeguards and mitigation measures were also lacking.
- The need for BLM to take a "hard look" at new information concerning the environmental effects of the lease sale that were unknown or not included in the draft EA. Here is where we asked the BLM to consider the mountains of new information coming to light about the health and air quality effects and earthquake hazards associated with fracking and drilling in the complex and unique geology of Huerfano County.
- Site-specific information that the BLM failed to consider in their initial analysis. For example, BLM didn't consider impacts on several sensitive species known to occur in Huerfano County including the endangered Canada lynx, Mexican Spotted Owl, Gray Vireo and greenback cutthroat trout.
What happens next?
The BLM is now required to resolve the issues raised in the protests. They could defer or withdraw some or all of the parcels before the lease sale, or include them in the auction but notify bidders that the parcel is under protest and could be withdrawn at a later date. It's difficult to predict what will happen, in some cases it can take the BLM years to resolve a protest issue, in other cases they are entirely dismissed. In any case, our hope is that should issues and concerns come up with these parcels in the future, we will have established a solid record of citizen concerns.
You can view and download the full 17-page CHC protest here.