Lawsuit threatened over North Fork oil, gas leasing

A citizens group is threatening to sue if the Bureau of Land Management refuses to defer leasing of some 20,500 acres in the North Fork Valley for oil and gas development at its 
Feb. 14 lease sale.

In a letter Friday to Mike Pool, the national BLM acting director, Jim Ramey, director of Hotchkiss-based Citizens for a Healthy Community, said deferral of the leasing “remains our hope and would prevent a costly and time-consuming lawsuit.”

“However, if litigation is the only option that we are afforded, our attorneys at the Western Environmental Law Center are prepared to file,” Ramey wrote.

Ramey said Monday, “We sincerely don’t want to move forward with a lawsuit but we feel like we’re going to be given no choice but to pursue that as a last resort.”

The BLM proposed leasing about 30,000 acres last year, before deferring those plans and downsizing the proposal.

Steven Hall, a Colorado BLM spokesman, said: “Any time the BLM takes any action there’s liable to be a lawsuit. That’s just the nature of the beast.”

Ramey said a lawsuit challenging the 2008 leasing on the Roan Plateau, which led to a judge’s order remanding the matter back to the BLM for further consideration, gives hope.

Ramey said the crux of the group’s argument is that the BLM made decisions based on an outdated resource management plan for its Uncompahgre Field Office.

Hall questioned that rationale, noting the same plan has been used to guide decisions regarding valley coal mines, helping maintain some 1,000 local mining jobs.

Ramey said it adequately planned for coal development, but not for oil and gas activity, which it didn’t anticipate would occur to any significant degree.

Hall said Citizens for a Healthy Community opposes any leasing under any circumstances.

“I don’t know that that leaves room for a lot of community collaboration” aimed at seeing if leasing makes sense in some cases, he said.

Ramey said his group might be open to leasing in some areas later with restrictions such as no surface disturbance.

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