North Fork plan: No leasing in most of area

A locally generated North Fork Valley proposal calls for no Bureau of Land Management oil and gas leasing for more than three-quarters of the acreage it covers.

What’s being called the North Fork Alternative Plan was submitted Wednesday to the BLM, which has agreed to consider it as a possible option in its draft resource management plan for its Uncompahgre Field Office, based in Montrose.

Supporters say it would close to leasing about 4 percent of minerals administered by the office, based in Montrose, and less than half a percent of all BLM-managed minerals in the state.

But it proposes no leasing on about 77 percent of the 138,000 acres of BLM-managed fluid minerals contained within the area the plan covers. Another 17.5 percent would be leased under the condition that no surface disturbance of the leased acreage occurs.

Jim Ramey, with Citizens for a Healthy Community, one of the entities that developed the plan, said it’s important to note that existing leases in the North Fork area wouldn’t be impacted by the proposal.

Those leases cover more than 150,000 acres and are primarily in the upper North Fork/Muddy Creek area, which the BLM considers to have higher oil and gas potential, he said. Most of the unleased areas are rated as having low to moderate potential.

Most of the acreage the plan proposes closing to leasing contains water supplies that need to be protected, Ramey said.

The plan also proposes no leasing within a half-mile of Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford; within a quarter-mile of active or existing coal leases because of mine safety considerations, unless the leases involve capturing mine methane; near prominent landmarks such as the face of Jumbo Mountain near Paonia; and in areas rated as having high potential for contributing selenium to the Gunnison River watershed.

“I think our plan is reasonable and balanced. It’s not a no-leasing plan, but rather a resource-based proposal that’s meant to give strong protections for the important resources here,” Ramey said.

The proposal is endorsed by entities including the towns of Paonia and Crawford, the Paonia Chamber of Commerce, the Valley Organic Growers Association and the West Elk Winery Association.

David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said the plan asks people to make a false choice between farming or energy and health or prosperity.

“Agriculture and energy development are crucially interdependent and energy can be developed while protecting health in the North Fork Valley,” he said.


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