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The Colorado State Land Board, which is the second largest land manager in Colorado, is tasked with optimizing preservation and not maximizing revenue, while also prioritizing stewardship of public trust lands. However, 80% of the land board’s revenue is derived from fracking and oil and gas lease sales. Problems include lack of inspectors and adequate inspections on fracking operations, the issue of plugged and abandoned wells, and a need to re-envision their mandate in order to move to a carbon-free future. 2019 is a strategic planning year for the Land Board and public input and attention has thus far been scant.
The SLB has 1,250 active oil and gas leases covering approximately 574,000 acres of mineral estate. These leases resulted in approximately $1 billion earned for trust beneficiaries, most notably Colorado schools, in the past decade. However, this revenue stream for Colorado schools is not sustainable in the long term.
Environmental advocates in Colorado have for decades focused on actions by the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service. More recently, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has been closely scrutinized. But the second largest land manager in Colorado – the State Land Board (SLB) – has received little attention from environmental advocates.
The SLB manages over 2.8 million acres of Colorado’s surface lands and over 4 million acres of subsurface mineral rights. The mission of the SLB, as the recipient of lands given to Colorado by the federal government at statehood, is to raise money for the state’s schools. SLB does this by leasing land for grazing, hunting, and mineral development, as well as owning commercial buildings. In 1996, the citizens of Colorado passed an initiative (Amendment 16) which changed the SLB’s charge from “maximizing” revenue to “optimizing” revenue consistent with environmental protection. Amendment 16 also required SLB to designate 10% of its lands – 300,000 acres – as the Stewardship Trust, where environmental protection was emphasized to protect the lands’ outstanding natural values.
In 2018, at a quarterly oil and gas lease, SLB approved for auction 44,000 acres for fracking. That’s 69 square miles, all of which was valuable bird and wildlife habitat for which Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) requested No Surface Occupancy stipulations during part of the year.
While the majority of income for the State Land Board is derived from oil and gas leases, renewable leases are also offered – including solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, and biomass. The State Land Board is partnering with Xcel Energy to meet the PUC mandate of 30% by 2020 and the Colorado Energy Plan for Xcel’s attaining 56% renewable energy in the state by 2026. However, with only 60,000 acres leased for renewables, it is clear that greater leadership is needed to move Colorado to a more carbon-free future.
*Thanks to Brad Klafehn and Sam Allen who contributed to the above research.