Paonia town trustees expressed concern over the Bureau of Land Management's decision to put 20,555 acres of public lands up for bid at its Feb. 14, 2013, oil and gas lease sale.
Last April, the BLM announced that it would defer the sale of all 22 parcels and 30,000 acres of land located in and around the North Fork Valley from its August 2012 lease sale after receiving more than 3,000 letters expressing concern and opposition.
The BLM is also in the process of updating its 25-year-old resource management plan (RMP) for the area. The existing plan does not include the subject of oil and gas. The BLM is expected to release a draft RMP after the February sale.
"It's not like we're saying no," said trustee Eric Goold. "We're just saying wait. (The BLM is) not even waiting for the (resource management) plan to come out, they're not waiting on a final version. They're not waiting on any version."
The previous trustees submitted a letter to the BLM regarding the original lease sale, noted Neal Schwieterman. At the meeting, trustees asked the town to draft a protest letter prior to the Dec. 11 meeting, since the protest period closes on Dec. 17.
The existing proposal is a scaled-down version of the original proposal and does not include land located in the town's municipal watershed. Those parcels were "wholly taken off," said Schwieterman. But other parcels of note that remain in the sale include recreational lands and lands located within local watersheds.
Trustees discussed which issues should be included in the protest letter. Trustee Brian Ayers asked if the method of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking itself, should be addressed in the letter and asked if there were issues directly related to fracking that should be addressed.
If nothing goes wrong, it's safe, said Sarah Sauter, executive director for the NFRIA-WSERC Conservation Center, who fielded questions about the proposed sale. While the industry states that fracking fluids used in the process are injected to levels deep enough that they will never contaminate well or surface waters, "We don't really know that. There's no geologist that will say, 'Oh, you won't see this percolating through the soil.' " But the biggest problems are likely to occur if trucks were to overturn and spill within the town or a watershed, said Sauter. The result would be contaminated wells, creeks and irrigation ditches.
Of the remaining parcels, nine encroach on the town's designated water- shed protection area, as defined in the town's 2003 watershed ordinance. Those areas are shown on the watershed protection area map, which is an appendix to the ordinance. In 2011 the town filed a source-water protection plan.
Trustee Amber Kleinman noted that just having the leases up for bid threatens land values in the area. "It makes for uncertainty for those thinking about moving here," said Kleinman, and that will weaken the economy.
Other suggestions for the draft letter include:
• Heavy truck traffic — since Black Bridge Road is not a viable truck route, trucks would be routed through the existing town truck route and on to 2nd Street;
• Air quality;
• Protection of unique farm and ranch lands and the area's many organic farms;
• Loss of wildlife habitat;
• Loss of recreation areas; and
• Lack of availability of water for use in the fracking process.
Most of these issues were addressed in the original letter, said Schwieterman, who invited trustees and the public to contact the town with additional concerns.
That the BLM hasn't even completed its own draft RMP or gotten into the specifics of the sale is going against the bureau's own policies, noted one citizen.
"To me, that's just the cart before the horse," said trustee Ross King. "It seems to me that this town ought to be on record to object that they're going against their own process."blog comments powered by Disqus