Proposed drilling near Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve sparks debate

GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE, Colo. -- An ongoing debate regarding whether oil and gas development should take place near Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is intensifying.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently sent a letter to the Bureau of Land Management asking to consider air quality concerns before making any final decision.

The EPA recently clarified to an energy publication they have no plans to hinder development.

At the same time however the Bureau of Land Management, the government organization charged with maintaining federal land and in this case leasing it for development, says no final decisions have been made.

"We are still several months away from deciding if the area will be leased," Steven Hall, a spokesman for BLM in Colorado said.

Hall said important clarifications regarding the proposed site need to be made.

While the proposed oil and gas drilling site would be a mile from the national park -- it would be a mile from the park's most remote boundary --- not the actual sand dunes. The land would also be on the other side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

"It's a safe estimate that the site is 10-15 miles away from the dunes themselves,"  Hall added.

The Bureau of Land Management told FOX31 the agency's mission is to protect federal land but also look into ways to develop it. Currently $3 billion a year in economic activity in Colorado takes place on BLM land.

This coming July the BLM will make an announcement regarding whether the site is still under consideration for development. No final decision is expected until September.

For visitors at the sand dunes, they just hope the federal government makes the right decision.

"I guess it's a little alarming if there is a big heavy mining industry going on," John Hyland, a park visitor, said.

"This is what makes America beautiful -- it's pretty unique to the state here," Hyland added.

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