On Friday, Oct. 20, a broad coalition of groups filed a complaint challenging a 146-well Bureau of Land Management (BLM) master development plan (MDP) 30 miles northeast of Paonia in Colorado's Bull Mountain Unit. The coalition includes four citizen and conservation groups representing local farmers, ranchers, vineyards, wineries, recreationalists, property owners, residents, and local businesses.
On Oct. 4, 2017, the BLM approved the Bull Mountain Unit MDP, which allows for the construction of up to 33 new well pads, 146 new natural gas wells, and four new wastewater disposal wells. Included in the BLM's decision is the approval of an application for permit to drill (APD) for the "12-89-7-1" well. This approved master plan consists of approximately 19,670 acres of federal and private subsurface mineral estate.
"This project is in the middle of three critical watersheds, which provide drinking and irrigation water down valley to residents and farmers who supply the Western Slope and the Front Range with some of the state's highest quality fruits, vegetables and meats," said Natasha Léger, interim executive director at Citizens for a Healthy Community. "The North Fork Valley is unique in terms of biodiversity and agricultural communities. The risk of irreparable harm to this irreplaceable ecosystem is simply too high."
The groups seek declaratory and injunctive relief from the BLM for failure to include a reasonable range of alternatives and/or take a hard look at the proposal's cumulative impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act.
"The Bull Mountain Unit and its 146 wells would have significant and long-lasting impacts on elk and mule deer," said Matt Reed, public lands program director at Gunnison County-based High Country Conservation Advocates. "Opening up this landscape to industrialization would be detrimental to big game populations, with repercussions for wildlife health, ecosystem integrity and hunting across a large area."
The groups challenging the Bull Mountain Decision are represented by Western Environmental Law Center and Center for Biological Diversity, and include Center for Biological Diversity, Citizens for a Healthy Community, High Country Conservation Advocates and WildEarth Guardians.
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the Delta County Board of Commissioners called a special meeting to consider the board's response to the Bureau of Land Management's preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA) concerning the lease parcels proposed for the December BLM sale.
Several people from the North Fork were present to provide input.