Just one week after announcing that some 2,800 acres in the North Fork Valley would be included in a Dec. 13 oil and gas lease offering, the Bureau of Land Management Friday afternoon announced that the controversial leases would not be part of the upcoming sale and would be deferred.
"At any point between the nomination of a parcel and the actual sale itself, we can pull those parcels or defer those parcels from that sale," said BLM spokesman Steven Hall. "In this instance, this is when the timing came together for us to make the announcement."
"This is just the culmination of a deliberative process of us working closely with the state of Colorado," Hall said.
The town of Paonia, local activists, Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet were among those who sought to have the North Fork Valley acreage deferred from being leased, pending completion of a new resource management plan by the BLM's Uncompahgre Field Office.
Input specifically from the state — which was detailed in a Hickenlooper letter in July — was determinant in deciding to pull the acreage from the December sale.
"This is absolutely a result of the input that we received from the state of Colorado," Hall said.
The North Fork acreage is near Paonia Reservoir and lands contiguous to national forest roadless areas.
"This is a welcome reprieve for the North Fork Valley's wildlife and organic farmers, but these deferrals are temporary," said Allison Melton, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The BLM needs to adopt a land management plan that permanently protects the North Fork by taking oil and gas leasing completely off the table."
Gunnison Energy nominated the acreage for leasing. The company has said it hopes to acquire the leases to facilitate horizontal well development where it already has existing federal lease units, or groups of leases.
BLM Colorado on Friday deferred 58 parcels including 74,516 acres from the Dec. 13 oil and gas lease sale. The agency is set to offer 23 parcels including 8,347 acres in the sale next month.
A protest period about the sale ends 4 p.m. Monday. More information about the sale is available at on.doi.gov/2OrShYY.
Dennis Webb contributed to this report.