As one of many options to close the funding gap created by recent budget shortfalls, Colorado State Parks could be selling mineral rights and allowing private corporations to drill in some of itâ€™s 42 parks.
â€œThis is simply a proposal, and in no way is it set to go into effect any time soon,â€ said Deb Frazier, the communications manager for the state parks service.
Colorado State Parks owns only 21.6 percent of the 225,260 land and water acres that the agency manages, but doesnâ€™t necessarily own, the mineral rights to related to that land, which are generally owned by another state or federal agency.
Because the state parks donâ€™t own mineral rights for the majority of the land, private corporations can still directionally drill under parkland via an adjacent property.
Allowing surface drilling in the parks would allow for state parks to generate increased revenue from these pursuits and would mandate that any drilling would be better regulated by the state parks service.
â€œAny lease on land owned by Colorado State Parks would require an extensive environmental assessment, including provisions for habitat protection, water quality protection and the other values that are part of the state parkâ€™s mission and vision statement,â€ Frazier said.
State funding for Colorado State Parks has decreased from $6.7 million in 2009 to $2.6 million this fiscal year, and is supposed to decrease even further next year, creating the plan under the assumption that state parks will receive zero state funding.
Currently, Barr Lake State Park is the only park with mineral extraction operations in place, and the park currently has four surface lease agreements for natural gas production.
Despite a location in the resource-rich DJ Basin, there are currently no plans in place for future oil and gas development in St. Vrain State Park. According to the State Parks Service, there are no possibilities or proposals in place at this time for any mineral extraction activities in Lory State Park.
â€œItâ€™s important to realize that oil is very rare in the state of Colorado, and we are simply exploring the possibility of capitalizing on these resources in state parks,â€ Frazier said. â€œThe extent of the state parks mineral holdings is probably very small.â€
This proposal is part of a multiple step process to balance the state parkâ€™s budget and is merely an exploratory measure that is being discussed as an option to generate revenue, among other measures such as closing less popular state parks and increasing revenue via various fundraising options. Currently, state parks receive funding through a combination of state taxes and lottery revenue.
Parks considered for closure include eastern Coloradoâ€™s Bonny Lake State Park, Sweitzer Lake State Park near Delta, Paonia State Park in Gunnison County and Harvey Gap State Park near Silt.
â€œDrilling in state parks kind of defeats the entire purpose of state parks,â€ said Bill Teidje, the vice president of the CSU Society for Conservation Biology. â€œState Parks are supposed to be about preserving a segment of nature and have not been set aside for this sort of extractive use. These proposals should be seriously reevaluated.â€
Outdoor Life Beat Reporter Allison Sylte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org