After hearing one-minute public comments from approximately 20 individuals, the BLM Southwest Resource Advisory Council (RAC) considered a resolution in support of making hydrology a special resource in the North Fork Valley 2012 oil and gas lease sale. It also recommended further socioeconomic analysis.
The resolution failed to gather the necessary majority votes to pass.
The RAC meeting was held in Hotchkiss at Memorial Hall on April 26-27, with reports and discussions of the Gunnison sage grouse, the August oil and gas lease sale and public comment on Friday.
According to a BLM press release, the RAC is comprised of three categories of "citizens chosen for their expertise in natural resource issues. . . . The diverse membership of each RAC is aimed at achieving a balanced outlook that the BLM needs for its mission, which is to manage the public lands for multiple uses."
Category One includes public land ranchers and representatives of organizations associated with energy and mineral development, the timber industry, transportation or rights-of-way, off-highway vehicle use, and commercial recreation.
Category Two has representatives of nationally or regionally recognized environmental organizations, archaeological and historical organizations, dispersed recreation activities, and wild horse and burro organizations.
Category Three has representatives of state, county, or local elected office; representatives and employees of a state agency responsible for the management of natural resources; representatives of Indian Tribes within or adjacent to the area for which the RAC is organized; representatives and employees of academic institutions who are involved in natural sciences; and the public-at-large.
For a resolution to pass, a majority of each category must vote in favor. Friday's resolution did not have the majority in Category One and Category Three.
The resolution noted the RAC had "identified resources and resource uses that may experience significant effects that have generated significant public controversy" and that the RAC "supports an inclusive public process for oil and gas leasing resulting in comprehensive and thorough information to be used in its decision making" and finally that "an important and ongoing component of the North Fork Valley economy is organic agriculture including farming, orchards and wineries."
Barb Sharrow, field manager for the BLM's Uncompahgre Field Office, spoke on the leasing process. This August oil and gas lease sale is the first time the process is nine months long and includes three opportunities for public comment. The first two rounds of public comment are completed. "We took your letters very seriously and are taking the second round very seriously," Sharrow said to those in the audience. She noted that there will probably be changes in the lease sale. "I really appreciate the time people took to give us substantive comments," Sharrow said.
The BLM will post the information of the final sale on May 11, followed by a 30-day public protest period. The state BLM director will make the final decision on what will be included in the sale. Only those who commented in the first or second public comment periods are allowed to protest the final sale. Protests are handled at the Washington, D.C., BLM office.
Parcels that do not sell can be purchased over the next two years at the public desk in the Lakewood BLM office. Those generally sell for just $2 an acre.
Those leases sold in the August auction will be for 10 years. The winning company can unitize a number of parcels so drilling can happen in a more "orderly fashion" where particular portions are focussed on instead of drilling on each parcel. The biggest unit in the state is between Delta and Grand Junction which covers approximately 90,000 acres.
A nominated parcel can be deferred under certain conditions. For example, Sharrow said, a portion of a parcel could be deferred if a Gunnison Sage Grouse lek was discovered.
Companies can work with private property owners who own the surface and mineral rights. BLM has no jurisdiction in those arrangements.
For those lands managed by the Uncompahgre Field Office, an "extremely small fraction of wells" exist, Sharrow said.
Asked if the BLM has ever withdrawn parcels from an oil and gas lease sale due to hydrological concerns, Sharrow that stipulations are included that companies must work with towns who have a watershed protection plan. This can result in a large number of acres being off limits for drilling.
The Town of Hotchkiss has a 2009 Watershed Protection Ordinance. Paonia has a draft of one and Crawford has none.
Asked about the known negative impacts of drilling in the east part of the U.S., Sharrow said she has done extensive research which shows that in the east drilling has mainly been on private property with private development. In the West, Sharrow said there are a lot of stipulations that companies must follow.
Among those who spoke during the public comment time were these:
Bernard Heideman said, "The Natural Gas Industry has been allowed to create significant impacts on many communities around the country partly because of the thought that a cleaner fuel than coal was needed. It has been shown that fracking creates more environmental damage than coal in the long run."
Mary George asked the RAC, "At 1 million gallons of water needed per well drilled, do you know where this water will come from? Do we have enough water resources to write this water off as no longer usable or available?"
Dea Jacobson, a former public lands aide for former Congressman and Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, said "The intent of Congress in passing the law we call NEPA was to ensure that environmental factors are weighted equally when compared to other factors in the decision making process undertaken by federal agencies." She further stated, "These regulations also state that to be in compliance BLM should complete a supplemental EIS to its existing [Resource Management Plan]. This is to be done 'if there are significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impacts.'"
Elaine Brett said, "Geologists and industry people tell us that the probability of successful and efficient gas extraction [in the North Fork Valley] is extremely small. While the probability of coal, solar, hydro and wind is known and is very high. Why take the risk of ruining a great community . . ."
The other major presentation was by Samantha Staley discussing the Gunnison Sage Grouse which is expected to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Five of the seven populations of the Gunnison Sage Grouse are located in the Southwest District. The endangered species designation will include Federal obligations mandating species recovery and beneficial improvements for the species and its habitat. More than 3,000 acres of pinyon-juniper removal was accomplished in 2010 and 2011. This enabled sage brush to return for the bird's habitat. There has also been riparian enhancements and weed treatments.
Annual lek counts have improved and new leks have been located.
The Uncompahgre Field Office has modified its monitoring protocol for the Gunnison Sage Grouse. The Gunnison Field Office is in the process of doing the same.
Staley said the BLM in the next year and a half will be coordinating with Fish and Wildlife on conservation activities in the Gunnison Sage Grouse critical habitat.
Management has created for the Gunnison Basin Tier 1 and Tier 2 habitat designations. Tier 1 is less fragmented and covers approximately 60 percent of the basin. Tier 2 covers 40 percent. The guiding strategies are in Tier 1 to make the conservation program actionable and in Tier 2 to account for cumulative impacts of fragmentation.
The endangered species listing for the Gunnison Sage Grouse will naturally cause some slow down of other work at BLM, but Staley explained, "that is what happens when there is a new listing." BLM is planning ahead distributing anticipated consultation work load and continuing on the ground work.
Andrea Robinsong who is a member of RAC, said that most landowners believe there will be obligations put on them when the Gunnison Sage Grouse is listed.blog comments powered by Disqus