BLM Leases 72,000 Acres in Colorado

Energy companies spent $6.6 million Thursday for a chance to explore and develop nearly 72,000 acres of prime oil and gas land in western Colorado.

Much of the land, owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management, is also being eyed by environmental and citizen groups for wilderness protection. The groups filed protests on all but 13 of the 70 parcels, delaying any development for months.

BLM officials did not immediately identify most of the 52 buyers but said they expected to release a list Friday.

Lease buyers get oil and gas development rights for 10 years. The BLM can also sell leases for other activities, such as cattle ranching, on the same land.

Environmental groups won a partial victory when the BLM withdrew four parcels before the auction, saying further environmental study was needed. One includes 91 acres in the Paonia State Recreation Area south of Carbondale, Colo.

Parcels on Big Ridge, Oil Springs Mountain and Dragon Canyon near Meeker, Colo., were removed from the auction because of information about the character of the land provided by the Colorado Environmental Coalition, BLM spokesman Vaughn Whatley said.

They were among 59 areas that environmental groups and a host of local government, citizens and business groups believe should be designated as wilderness.

Besides the purchase price, lease buyers pay $1.50 per acre each year for the first five years and $2 per acre per year for the second five years.

The bureau began oil and gas lease auctions in 1987.