July 27, 2012
The Bureau of Land Management has released an environmental assessment for a proposed lease sale on underground minerals that includes 6,150 acres in South Monterey County.
This proposed lease, which affects mostly private land which the feds own below-surface rights to, covers nearly 18,000 acres in total, with parcels in San Benito and Fresno counties. The lease sale, scheduled for Dec. 12, would be the larger of two such BLM sales in about a year. Last fall, BLM put up 2,600 acres in the same area for sale to oil and gas prospectors.
But Sky Murphy, BLM's regional environmental coordinator, says the time lag is consistent with historic trends in the region, where prospectors buy up the rights, but then don't go through with actually drilling.
"Our reasonable foreseeable development, based on historic trends, is very low," Murphy says. "Last year, it was 2,000 acres in Monterey County. Now it’s 6,500 acres. That obviously raises some eyebrows but it doesn’t mean it’s any more likely to get developed."
One factor that could be different is newer, more efficient technologies and hydraulic fracturing, known as "fracking," that could access to the Monterey Shale formation deep below the surface.
Murphy says BLM estimates just 10 new wells will break ground in its entire Hollister-based region over the next decade. If oil and gas operators started requesting permits at a faster rate, he says BLM would reconsider its projections and wouldn't necessarily grant every drilling permit that comes its way.
The public is invited to comment on the environmental analysis of this lease sale, which affect 30 private landowners, up until Aug. 6.
Based on the several dozen letters he's received so far, Murphy says, "A lot of the landowners are more supportive, and a lot of the environmental concerns from outside the area are less supportive."
BLM is one of the few governmental revenue-generators, thanks to leasing out rights to its below-ground mineral estates. Typically landowners earn royalties from oil companies who use their property.