Concerns Continue Over Possible Drilling Near Colorado's Great Sand Dunes

May 31, 2018

Voices continue to mount against the Trump administration's plan to lease land for oil drilling near the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado. The Bureau of Land Management plans to lease more than 20,000 acres of land starting in early September, some of which comes within a mile of the park.

The Environmental Protection Agency has raised concerns about drilling on 11 out of 28 of the parcels in question and has asked that the BLM consider delaying the decision to lease until they've been addressed.

In a letter to the BLM the agency said there hasn’t been enough consultation about whether drilling activity could impact nearby water quality. Specifically, ground disturbance and construction could raise the levels of selenium in the Huerfano River and possibly contaminate shallow groundwater. The letter also cites concern over possible effects to air quality and visibility in the national park and preserve, which are right over the mountains from some of the lease sites.

The EPA also suggests that the BLM consult with the Navajo Nation, which recently bought land near a Colorado mountain called Blanca Peak, also known as Tsisnaasjini’ or Sisnaajiní. The area is culturally important to the tribe and some of the purchased land appears to overlap with the lease parcels.

“We feel the local communities wouldn’t want to be impacted by any possible detrimental drilling or production,” Russell Begaye, President of the Navajo Nation, told the Denver Post. “This land is sacred and the Navajo Nation will always protect the beauty and sacredness of the land.”

A spokesperson with Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office says that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is evaluating the issues raised by the EPA letter in April. If drilling activities were found to have an impact on air or water in the national park, the spokesperson said, it would be a serious concern.

In a letter to the BLM protesting the leases Democrats in the Colorado Senate cited a “moral responsibility to preserve our public lands for future generations.”

A spokesperson with the BLM says the agency has “reached out” to the Navajo Nation, and that when – or if – the bureau receives applications to drill on leased land, it will conduct site-specific analysis of air and water impacts.

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. 

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