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West Elk Coal Mine


Uncompahgre Field Office





Gas Drilling Rig Uranium Mine Entrance 






The BLM dual mandate of multiple use and sustained yield means that BLM-administered lands are available for the exploration and development of energy resources.  Resource management plans establish which areas are open or closed to coal, oil, and gas leasing. The Mineral Leasing Act guides land use planning, leasing, bonding, operations, and reclamation associated with all development of federal coal, oil, and natural gas resources, as well as many other federal, state, and local laws and regulations.

The Mining Law of 1872 provides the legal framework for citizens to acquire mineral rights to a variety of hard-rock minerals, including uranium and vanadium.  Mining claimants are required to get BLM authorization before conducting any significant surface-disturbing activities.  Miners are also required to get various permits from state and local governments in addition to putting in place financial guarantee bonds to insure completion of reclamation to meet various agency standards.

Many of the impacts associated with these activities can be significantly reduced or eliminated through site-specific stipulations identified and developed through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.  These measures include using best management practices, avoiding critical wildlife habitat, and reclaiming sites.

For information on active federal coal leases in southwestern Colorado, visit:  UFO-Managed Federal Coal Leases



According to Colorado State historic records, 116 gas wells have been drilled in the North Fork area on federally managed oil and gas leases, including split estate lands. The North Fork area is bordered by the following: Colorado State Highway 50 on the west, Colorado State Highway 133 on the south to Paonia Reservoir, then directly north and east to the UFO boundary. Of these wells, 15 are presently producing natural gas, 29 are shut-in but capable of production, and 72 have been drilled, abandoned and plugged.

On federally managed oil and gases leases in the rest of the UFO, including split estate lands, 71 gas wells have been drilled. Of these, two are presently producing natural gas, two are shut-in but capable of production, and 65 have been drilled, abandoned and plugged. Records show that an additional two wells have been proposed and are currently awaiting approval.



In split estate situations, the surface and subsurface rights (such as the right to develop minerals) for a piece of land are owned by different parties.  Mineral rights are considered dominant, meaning that they take precedence over other property rights, including those associated with surface ownership.  However, the mineral owner must show due regard for the interests of the surface estate owner, and occupy only those portions of the surface that are reasonably necessary to develop the mineral estate.

The BLM’s split estate policy applies only to situations where the surface rights are in private ownership and the rights to development of the mineral resources are publicly held and managed by the federal government.



Natural gas typically occurs in sedimentary strata associated with the Mancos Shale, and within coal seams in rock formations of the Mesa Verde Group.  Within the UFO, natural gas resources are found in the same general locations as coal resources, (north of U.S. Highway 133, across from the Delta County towns of Hotchkiss, Paonia and Bowie, in the Gunnison County town of Somerset, and in the area north of Paonia Reservoir).  Coal and gas resources are also present in the west end of Montrose County, although they have been developed to a lesser extent.


Uranium and placer gold are the primary mineral resources found in the UFO.  The uranium-rich Salt Wash Member of the Morrison Formation outcrops in numerous locations associated with the Uravan Mineral Belt as it passes through western Montrose County.  The UFO has over twenty exploration projects currently open, ranging from exploratory drilling to bulk sampling of historic underground mine workings.

Uranium Leasing Program

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Legacy Management currently administers the Uranium Leasing Program, managing 32 lease tracts containing approximately 25,000 acres, all located within the Uravan Mineral Belt in three southwestern Colorado counties (Mesa, Montrose, and San Miguel).  These public lands are withdrawn to the DOE for the management of uranium and vanadium resources.  The DOE has jurisdiction for these resources, while the surface management of other resources such as grazing and recreation is under BLM jurisdiction.  The Uranium Leasing Program is managed under the authority and in accordance with Title 10, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 760 in cooperation with the BLM and the State of Colorado.

For more information on the Uranium Leasing Program, please visit the DOE Office of Legacy Management website.



Other mineral resources include the potential for leasable potash and phosphate deposits associated with the Paradox Member of the Hermosa Group Formation in Paradox Valley.  The Mineral Leasing Act guides land use planning, leasing, bonding, operations, and reclamation associated with all development of federal non-energy leasable mineral resources. In addition, sand and gravel deposits located throughout the planning area are primarily extracted for use as road base.


UFO-Managed Federal Coal Leases

Placer Gold Mining

North Fork Valley Coal Resources

UFO Mineral Estate Map 3.9MB

UFO Coal and Uranium Map 3.4MB

UFO Oil and Gas Leasing Map 3.7MB

UFO NEPA Register

Oil & Gas APD Processing Fee

North Fork Oil & Gas Development - Fact Sheet

Gas Drilling Rig


For more information about how the BLM manages split estate, view the slide show:  Split Estate: Private Surface/Public Minerals—What Does it Mean to You?

For a detailed explanation of oil and gas leasing and development, and split estate issues, visit the following websites:

BLM Colorado Oil and Gas Program

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission

BLM Minerals Program

BLM Renewable Resources



Placer gold deposits occur in the San Miguel River, where active placer mining claims are worked by non-commercial panning and dredging groups after seasonal spring runoff has replenished the resource.

·      Letter to San Miguel Placer Mining Claimants

·      Placer and Recreational Mining on the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers - February 2013 presentation for Olathe Chapter of Gold Prospectors Association of America (4.3 MB PDF)

·      Surface Management 3809 Regulations

·      Surface Management 3809 Handbook (2.8 MB)


Prior to beginning operations, please complete either version of the required Casual Use Placer Notification below.  Mail or bring in to:

BLM Uncompahgre Field Office

2465 South Townsend Ave

Montrose, CO  81401

·      Casual Use Placer Notification (Print & Fill PDF)

·      Casual Use Placer Notification (Fillable PDF) 


Portions of land along the San Miguel River in the Piñon and Norwood Bridge areas have been reacquired and are not open to mineral location.  These areas (identified on the following maps) are open to non-motorized recreational placer mining:


Norwood Bridge Recreational Placer MapPinon Bridge Recreational Placer Map

Norwood Bridge Area    Piñon Bridge Area 



·      Recreational Placer Notification (Print & Fill PDF)

·      Recreational Placer Notification (Fillable PDF)


Teresa Pfifer, ActingField Manager

Phone: (970) 240-5300  |  TDD: (970) 240-5366  |  FAX: (970) 240-5367

2465 S. Townsend Ave, Montrose, CO  81401

Office Hours: 8:00 am - 4:30 pm

Click on the address above for a map showing the location of

BLM Uncompahgre Field Office administrative headquarters


UFO Paradox Landscape