The Bureau of Land Management planned to lease about 18,000 acres of land in southern Colorado for oil and gas drilling. Now, the bureau says it’s holding off so it can consult with the Navajo Nation.
The land is across the mountains from the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and possibly overlaps with ranch property purchased by the Navajo Nation within the last year. The land is in an area considered by the Nation to be “ancestral land.”
“When we discovered that BLM was going to proceed to take these steps, the Nation demanded a consultation,” said Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye in a statement. "A meeting took place between the Nation and BLM over the potential discovery and extraction of oil. The Nation raised concerns over oil spillage and the contamination of groundwater. We expressed that it is our intention to keep the beauty of that area intact and the water pristine that exists on the property.”
Begaye says the current delay is to “verify if BLM has the rights to minerals” on the land in question.
Conservation groups and politicians have opposed the leases, saying they could harm air and water quality, impact the National Park and Preserve and meddle with the habitat and migration routes of certain animals. In a letter to the BLM in April, the Environmental Protection Agency also raised a few environmental issues, in addition to concern over the lack of consultation with the Navajo Nation.
In a draft environmental assessment report, the BLM said it consulted with 16 tribes, but that list did not include the Navajo Nation.
The agency’s website says that “tribal consultation is currently underway” and that “after consultation is completed, the Huerfano County parcels may be considered for a future sale.”
Parcels in other parts of Colorado will still go up for sale in September.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.