What’s Happening with the Master Leasing Plan?
You may remember that last December it was announced the Bureau of Land Management Will Pursue a Master Leasing Plan!
San Juan Citizens Alliance staff and members worked hard last year to ensure that such an announcement would be made. We sent emails, called offices and spoke up at public meetings to let the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) know we want a more thorough process to balance oil and gas extraction with all the other important ways we use our public lands – hunting, fishing, agriculture, recreation, and protection of cultural resources to name a few.
Originally, the BLM was considering 300,000 acres, 80,000 of which were federal oil and gas estate, for the MLP. The BLM’s announcement in December, however, declared the MLP will encompass just 71,000 acres, 50,000 of which is federal mineral estate. Although much of the acreage reduction were areas where drilling is already exempt (mostly Wilderness Study Areas and private lands and minerals), they also axed regions the we would have like to see included in this management process.
It’s now June, so when is the Master Leasing Plan (MLP) process going to get started?
Well, it’s going to take a while. First some background.
Background: The Resource Management Plan
The Tres Rios Field Office (TRFO) completed their Resource Management Plan (RMP) in February 2015, which despite requests from La Plata County and others, determined the area did not meet the criteria for an MLP. They also failed to evaluate Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). We protested on both accounts, and more. Check out all the other ways we felt they failed here and here.
Although most of our protests were ignored, the BLM did agree to complete the ACEC process through a Plan Amendment. They also did an about face on an MLP, tasking the Southwest Resource Advisory Committee with making a recommendation on whether or not one should be done. The Committee, made up of various stakeholder groups, organized public meetings during which nearly 100 people spoke out nearly unanimously in support of an MLP.
Why is it taking so long?
The BLM can’t start the public involvement piece of the MLP until they have completed the ACEC process, since those designations determine leasing status and possible mitigation measures that must be taken. The process isn’t slated to be done until fall of 2018. Draft recommendations will be released before then, followed by a comment period. We’ll continue to be heavily involved in this process as well and let you know how and when to chime in on these critical designations.
The BLM has begun analysis on various background issues for the ACEC designations, such as wildlife migration and cultural resources, but the public involvement piece is still likely months away. The good news is that all nominated leases in the area have been deferred until the MLP is completed.
Here’s a rough timeline of when you can expect to see movement on both the ACEC and MLP processes.
- Feb 2015: Resource Management Plan Completed
- December 2016: Announcement to Pursue an MLP
- September 2018: Final ACEC determination
- Late 2018/2019: Public involvement on MLP can begin
For a refresher on what an MLP is and why it’s important here, see our blog from 2015 here.