BLM to proceed with North Fork
 oil, gas leasing

The Bureau of Land Management has decided to offer about 20,555 acres for oil and gas leasing in the North Fork Valley, about two-thirds of the amount it previously proposed.

The decision, announced Friday, was met with immediate criticism from citizen activists and praise from an industry representative.

“This was a bad idea last December and it’s still a bad idea today,” Citizens for a Healthy Community Director Jim Ramey said in a press release.

“Colorado’s (BLM) leasing program has been on life support for a couple of years, so anything the agency can do to nurse it back to health is something that we’re clearly excited about,” said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

The BLM is planning to offer the acreage in its Feb. 14 lease sale. It initially planned to offer about 30,000 acres in August of this year but decided in May to defer that action to do more analysis based on public comments.

Nearly 3,000 comments, mostly from individuals, were submitted on the initial proposal. Many have voiced fears about possible impacts to water supplies, agriculture, health and quality of life.

“Nothing about today’s North Fork was ever considered by the BLM in its 25-year-old (Uncompahgre Field Office resource) management plan and it is simply wrong, based upon that plan, to open these lands up for oil and gas,” Ty Gillespie, owner and operator of Azura Cellars and Gallery in Paonia, said in the news release from Ramey’s Hotchkiss-based group.

The acreage to be leased is in the Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford areas. It consists of all or parts of 20 of the 22 parcels that initially were proposed.

A finding of no significant impact by Colorado BLM oil and gas official Lonny Bagley concludes that effects on air and water quality “are not expected to be significant with the incorporation of mitigation measures.”

He found that development of lease parcels may have minor, indirect, short-term impacts on resources such as soil, vegetation and wildlife.

“Oil and gas development is a common practice in the area and no significant impacts to health and safety are known,” Bagley also found.

Ludlam said he believes the issue for some of the 10,000 or so acres the BLM decided against proceeding with leasing was the prospect of possible drilling near schools and public drinking water.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission currently is considering revising its setback requirements for schools, homes and other occupied structures, and Ludlam is hoping the new requirements might address BLM concerns enough to let more of the acreage be leased.

The Paonia-based NFRIA-WSERC Conservation Center said it appreciated the removal of some acreage from the BLM’s original plans, including Mount Jumbo and Paonia’s municipal watershed. But it said it will file an official protest of the lease decision and is urging others to do the same. The decision is subject to a 30-day protest period.

The Conservation Center said the BLM should have deferred any leasing decisions until its current work on revising its Uncompahgre plan is complete.


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