Colorado State Land Board withdraws South Park Leases in 4-1 vote

Today, the Colorado State Land Board met, in part to consider a proposal to lease parts of the James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area (SWA) for oil and gas development. This wildlife area is in the South Park Basin of Colorado, where it serves as prized habitat and a critical water source for the areas surrounding the basin. In its deliberations today, the land board made the smart, balanced decision to withdraw these state land parcels from leasing.

Both Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Park County had previously recommended the land board withdraw these leases, noting that the Bureau of Land Management has agreed to defer leases on the federal land in this same South Park region until a master leasing plan is approved. A master leasing plan would consider input from all stakeholders and allow for a measured plan that everyone can support going forward. Writes Park County in their recommendation,

“A master leasing plan has the potential to become a great success story in South Park and beyond. We do not want to miss this opportunity to bring our community together around balanced development…Park County respectfully request that the State Land Board suspend all oil and gas leases in South Park until the BLM planning process and guiding documents are produced.”

Western Values Project applauds Park County, the Hickenlooper administration, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife for opposing the South Park Basin lease sale and supporting a balanced approach that will help ensure both responsible energy development and the protection of Colorado’s wildlife and water.

“Westerners expect their leaders to take a balanced approach to our land and water, and it’s good that the Colorado State Land Board staff acknowledged the need for balance in the South Park Basin.  We’re hopeful that the board will agree and that the move represents an ongoing commitment to protecting all the values this land offers — not just the ones that benefit a few at the expense of all of us,” stated Western Values Project Director Chris Saeger in light of today’s decision.

Too-cheap land, priceless habitat

It makes no sense to put wildlife at risk and hand over the highly-prized James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area to oil and gas speculators. The last time the land board offered land for lease in South Park was February 2011, when the land generated only $5.23/acre. That was the cheapest of any land in the state for that auction, suggesting that land within Park County is significantly less valuable for oil and gas purposes than land found elsewhere. This is emphasized by the chart below, which lists counties in order of cheapest to most expensive land at the 2011 lease sale:

Results of Colorado State Land Board Lease Sale on February 17, 2011
County Acres Leased Price (Dollars) Avg. Price per Acre
Park 7,642.88 39,948.00 $5.23
Cheyenne 320 3700 $11.56
La Plata 400 16,680 $41.70
Elbert 8,320 577,220 $69.38
El Paso 640 52,180 $81.53
Yuma 1,883.65 218,960.5 $116.24
Jackson 3,762.56 545,744.98 $145.05
Morgan 640 109,780 $171.53
Arapahoe 1,908.41 447,201.95 $234.33
Larimer 762 301,183 $395.25
Moffat 5,157.57 2,496,095.50 $483.97
Douglas 4,280 2,431,360 $568.07
Routt 5,207.07 4,188,068.25 $804.30
Weld 11.529.13 10,302,160 $893.58


For comparison, state lands in Colorado sold for an average of $172.97/acre in the 2014 auction—more than 30 times that of South Park state land value from 2011. And now, the land board Oil and Gas Leasing Manager estimates that the state parcels in Park County have a current market value of only $0-$5 per acre.

What’s more, the few state lands that are leased in Park County aren’t being developed. Since 1991—that’s over twenty years ago—there have only been three “well starts” on state land. Right now, there’s only one active well on state lands in Park County, and its shut in. In fact, every other county except one in Colorado hosts more than one active well, and many counties have thousands, or tens of thousands, of active wells. That means that additional leasing is speculative at best. Looks like Park County state land is a dud for drilling.

Even the leases of the federal land surrounding the James Mark Jones SWA aren’t profitable, nor are they popular with industry. Since 2007, only eight parcels of BLM land in South Park have actually sold at lease auction, at an average $24 an acre. In 2011, it was only $2 an acre. For comparison, the average price of BLM land per acre in Colorado at those same lease sales was $115 per acre—nearly 5 times as much.

Leasing these parcels would have been wildly unprofitable for the state and county, and would cut out prime habitat to boot—habitat that generates significant hunting and fishing revenue for the region. In 2013, hunting in Park County produced almost $7 million in economic output, and over $2 million in salaries and wages. Fishing was even more significant, nearing $14 million—bringing the total economic impact from hunting and fishing combined was over $17 million. Clearly, taking these parcels off the table was the smart economic choice for South Park Basin.

We support the land board’s decision today, just as we supported Park County and Colorado Parks and Wildlife in their smart, balanced recommendation that the State Land Board withdraw the SWA lands from consideration. This action will drive the development of a strong master leasing plan for the area that all stakeholders can support, and will keep the South Park Basin economy healthy and thriving.


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