Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC) made the decision in December to hold their own public hearings on the oil and gas lease sales scheduled for Aug. 9. As sponsor of the meeting, CHC invited State Sen. Gail Schwartz to conduct the meeting.
A court reporter and a videographer will record comments from citizens. The video and transcript will then be turned in by CHC to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The CHC public hearing will take place on Saturday, Jan. 28, from 1-5 p.m. at Hotchkiss High School.
CHC decided to hold their own hearing after learning BLM would not hold any formal hearing between now and the sale.
Barbara Sharrow, field manager for the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office (UFO), said on Jan. 13, "At this time there is no public hearing scheduled. It's not normally done." She added, "We're getting lots and lots and lots of comments. We are getting a lot of really good information."
One of the points of contention is that parcels are being offered for future oil and gas development based on an out-of-date Resource Management Plan (RMP) from 1989. The RMP is in the process of being updated. Information for the updated RMP, scheduled to be completed in 2013, will be included in the Environmental Assessment regarding the parcels up for lease.
"Part of why we are doing an Environmental Assessment (EA) is to recognize or disclose anything new since the 1989 plan," Sharrow said.
Citizens have been urged by CHC and NFRIA-WSERC Conservation Center (NWCC) to request that BLM do the detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) rather than the EA considered to be a general overview.
Sharrow countered, "I think it is just the opposite. The Environmental Assessment looks very specifically at specific projects, which this is. The Environmental Impact Statement would be much more broad and be much more generic."
CHC and NWCC have asked that no lease sales be allowed until a geological study is completed and included in the 2013 RMP.
"It will be included in the RMP and we are also looking at that because it may be new information," Sharrow said. "We are looking at all kinds of things in this Environmental Assessment."
The BLM will be providing a lot of their own information in addition to the comments from local towns, citizens and grassroots organizations.
"The public comment period ends on Feb. 9. We really can't do a whole lot until the end of the public comment period, can we?" Sharrow said. "We know people are impatient but they are the ones who asked for the extension."
CHC and NWCC conducted public information meetings in December and early January in Hotchkiss, Paonia and Crawford.
While BLM does not have the exact dates for the comment periods after Feb. 9, Barbara Silverman, NWCC outreach coordinator, gave a general schedule based on BLM information at the North Fork Valley meetings.
In her overview of the process from nomination of parcels to the sale, she explained that BLM must conduct four sales a year. Industry, individuals or the BLM itself can nominate parcels. BLM, using the 1989 RMP, will determine if the nominated parcels appear to be available for oil and gas development. If so the BLM will consider putting them up for sale.
During the Scoping Period, BLM allows the public to comment. Normally it's a 30-day period. Because of the number of letters received requesting an extension, BLM gave the public an additional 30 days to comment, until Feb. 9. The BLM is looking for specific information on the nominated parcels.
According to Silverman, the next deadline will be about mid-March when the EA is put together. That will be followed by another 30-day public comment period.
"At each one of these steps it is entirely possible that we will see parcels taken off," Silverman said. "Permanently taken off the list for leasing or temporarily deferred for further investigation."
Following a month or more after the EA comment period is completed, a list of the parcels which are still going to be included in the lease sale will be released. Citizens will have another opportunity to voice their opinion during the Protest Period.
The live auction of the 10-year oil and gas leases will take place on Aug. 9 in Denver. Those bidding have to be present or send a representative.
Robin Smith, Citizens for a Healthy Community chairman of board, spoke on Jan. 12 at the Paonia Rotary Club.
Smith told the Rotarians, prior to the latest BLM proposal to lease oil and gas, there were about 200,000 acres of land in and around the Delta County area leased for gas. That includes the Delta County region and Gunnison County by the Paonia Reservoir and north of Delta into Mesa County stretching toward Grand Junction.
There are dozens of wells that have been drilled, Smith said, with most activity around Paonia Reservoir in the Bull Mountain area.
"The largest gas unit in the state was actually between Delta and Grand Junction, a 90,000 acre proposal to drill 500 wells. That has just been retracted. They now say they are going to drill 50-100 wells," Smith said.
Smith then detailed the CHC strategy concerning the oil and gas leases. "Our organization is hiring a full-time staff person, hopefully on board by February, solely to work on oil and gas issues."
Their public hearing at Hotchkiss High School is this Saturday. "We will record all the proceedings. We will get the transcripts and the video, and we will submit that with our comments to BLM by the Feb. 9 deadline," Smith said.
On Feb. 9 when public comments are due, CHC, High Country Citizens' Alliance and others who are submitting comments to BLM will organize a caravan from the North Fork Valley to the BLM office in Montrose. "We will hold a short rally about how we will get the leases withdrawn. Then we will go inside and submit our organizations' comments on behalf of the whole group."
Smith continued, "Then we will use the next month to apply political pressure on our two senators, Secretary of Interior, our county commissioners, our state representatives, to get them to our side."
CHC wants to nationalize the issue with a YouTube video.
After the EA is released, CHC will hold public meetings with the goal of more letters written by citizens to BLM.
CHC has formed a partnership with the Western Environmental Law Center. "We have two attorneys working closely with us. Should we feel the law has been violated and our community not protected, these attorneys will help defend and protect our community."
CHC will file a formal protest if BLM goes forward with the proposed lease sale. "If BLM denies our protest, we can litigate their denial," Smith said.
"After we have successfully gotten these parcels removed," he continued, "We're going to push forward on a moratorium on gas development
. . . We want these lands taken out of those potential leasable areas so that for the next 20 years we won't have to fight this again."
He concluded, "Once the lease is given out, the lease is a legal right to drill. If we don't stop it now, it's too late."blog comments powered by Disqus