Illegal Leases

Void_the_leases1000Some of our region’s most sensitive and valued public lands are under threat of oil and gas development because the Bureau of Land Management illegally leased them in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Our local BLM office publicly admitted its mistake in 2013, and embarked on a public process to rectify it. This process will conclude this summer when the BLM issues a final Environmental Impact statement (FEIS) and then after a short comment period a Record of Decision (ROD). For the past two year Wilderness Workshop has been pushing the BLM hard to cancel all 65 illegally issued leases. While BLM is unlikely to do that, they have indicated that they will cancel the 25 leases within the Thompson Divide. We’re still pushing to ensure the 40 leases further to the west get the protections they deserve even if the leases aren’t canceled.

The 65 “defective” leases (as the BLM calls them) cover more than 80,000 acres of spectacular, mostly roadless backcountry along a line extending westwards from Carbondale. 25 of them are in the Thompson Divide, and are the high profile leases held by SG Interests and Ursa Resources that are the focus of determined public opposition. The rest stretch from upper West Divide Creek to Battlement Mesa and almost to DeBeque.

The BLM kicked off its formal review of the 65 leases in early April 2014 with public meetings in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Aspen, and DeBeque. At those meetings, the agency explicitly stated that the process could result in its canceling the leases, modifying their terms to comply with the law, or allowing them to stand. This process provides us with the best chance we may have to kill these illegal leases once and for all.

The “defect” of these leases is that the BLM put them up for auction without considering the environmental impacts. The agency has acknowledged that its Glenwood Springs office violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued the leases. Many of the leases were also issued in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Moreover, most of the leases lie partly or entirely in federally inventoried roadless areas, and those leases were issued without any consideration of the Roadless Rule and without adequate protections for roadless values. (WW has led efforts for the past decade to ensure that Roadless Rule protections are properly applied on White River National Forest lands.)

So as far as we’re concerned, these leases should never have been issued in the first place. In 2009, in reviewing a different set of leases in the Thompson Divide that were issued under the same circumstances, the BLM declared them void ab initio (invalid from the start). That’s exactly what the agency should do again in this case: just void the leases.

The Wilderness Workshop and local governments were instrumental in persuading the BLM to review the leases’ validity in the first place.

During the review process, the BLM received over 50,000 comments asking the BLM to cancel the leases- we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you!