BLM puts off North Fork oil, gas leasing
Months of community activism in the North Fork Valley achieved at least a short-term victory Wednesday when the Bureau of Land Management said it is putting off plans to offer 30,000 acres in the North Fork Valley for oil and gas leasing.
The agency had been scheduled to offer the acreage in its August Colorado lease sale but said in a brief news release it is deferring that action.
“BLM has opted to conduct additional analysis of the proposed lease parcels based on public input,” the agency said.
BLM spokeswoman Shannon Borders declined to elaborate on the release.
“The BLM made a good decision,” Paonia Mayor Neal Schwieterman said in a prepared statement. “I am proud of my community, and I am grateful that the BLM listened to what we had to say.”
Activists say at least 1,000 people turned out at public meetings about the lease plans. Critics fear possible impacts to water supplies and to an area with a growing agritourism economy thanks to abundant vineyards, orchards, ranches and organic farms. A delegation recently went to Washington, D.C., to lobby federal decision-makers on the issue.
Many, including some area governments and Democrat Sal Pace, who hopes to unseat Republican Scott Tipton in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District race, had called on the BLM to postpone leasing until its Uncompahgre Field Office finishes a new resource management plan. They say it would better address oil and gas development than a current plan dating back to the 1980s.
Short of waiting on that, they want the BLM to prepare an environmental impact statement on the lease proposal, said Pete Kolbenschlag, a Paonia public-lands consultant.
“I think that the community had really good facts on its side as far as the BLM not having done the work it needed to do,” he said.
Gunnison Energy nominated a few of the 22 lease parcels. Company president Brad Robinson said a short-term deferral wouldn’t be a significant impact.
“But if it’s a year, I think that would be a big deal,” he said.
Kolbenschlag said the deferral shows Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s reforms of the leasing process have worked. But David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Oil and Gas Association, countered, “As the first test case of the Salazar onshore lease reforms, the deferral is proof positive that this administration’s new regulations will make producing West Slope energy harder, not easier.”