If the Bureau of Land Management had any pre-Christmas thoughts that a proposed oil and gas lease sale in August would not raise the citizenry of the North Fork Valley to action, they know differently now.
First came the uproar about comments having to be submitted by Jan. 9.
Letters were written and the BLM extended the comment period to Feb. 9. People were upset by the earlier, though legal, 30-day comment period because it came right before Christmas and New Year's and because people needed time to research the 22 parcels that have been nominated for the oil and gas lease sale Aug. 9.
The 22 parcels cover approximately 30,000 acres. Of that total acreage, 29,100 acres are on BLM managed lands near Crawford, Hotchkiss, Paonia, Somerset and the Paonia Reservoir State Park. The remaining acreage is privately owned.
Public comment to identify issues regarding specific parcels in the lease sale is being sought for the Environmental Assessment (EA) required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC) and NFRIA-WSERC Conservation Center (NWCC) quickly organized public meetings, the first being in Hotchkiss in December and then two last week in Paonia and Crawford. Well over 1,000 people packed the meeting sites.
A number of other organizations also were involved in the meetings. They included Valley Organic Growers Association, Western Colorado Congress, High Country Citizens' Alliance, Western Colorado Food and Agricultural Council and Slow Foods Western Slope.
The two activist groups urged those attending to write to the BLM and request four fundamental points. The first is for BLM to withdraw all of the 22 parcels from the August lease sale. The reason cited is "the parcels are adjacent to the communities of Hotchkiss, Paonia and Crawford and include areas that supply municipal water, and irrigation and domestic water companies."
Secondly, to defer offering lands for lease in the Uncompahgre Field Office (UFO) area until the Resource Management Plan (RMP) is revised and approved. The reason for this is because "the current RMP for the Uncompahgre Field Office area was approved in 1989."
Thirdly, they asked citizens to request the BLM hold public hearings on the leases "to thoroughly incorporate the public's concerns."
Lastly, they want the BLM to prepare the more comprehensive and thorough Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) rather than the Environmental Assessment (EA). An EA gives a more general overview of impacts.
At the meeting held at Paonia Junior High School, citizens filled bleachers on both sides of the gym, about 250 chairs on the floor and stood at the back of the gym or sat in front to hear the presentations and learn how to send comment letters to the BLM.
People had varying reasons for attending the meetings. In Paonia, Judy Martin said she wrote a letter to BLM "as an owner of property right below Garvin Mesa. My water supply will definitely be affected, both the spring that we have for a tap and my well. So, I am totally against fracking and oil and gas exploration around the valley, not just for me, but for the whole valley." Her comments were regarding parcel 6207.
Also at the Paonia meeting were two women who left Rifle because of oil and gas drilling. Sally Kuretich worked as a deli manager in City Market in Rifle during the height of gas drilling from 2001-2005. "You couldn't walk outside without sneezing. Your eyes watered. And seriously, everybody's hair was falling out."
Sarah Johnson says she knows she lost her baby by drinking contaminated water in Rifle. Her son died of a major heart defect in 1996. "I never drink water, but I made myself drink water daily because I thought it was best for the pregnancy. I found out later there was a class action suit. There were lots of birth defects in Rifle because of the water from fracking. That's why I'm so against it," Johnson said.
"The thing is you moved from Rifle to escape it, and now it's coming here," Kuretich added. "Exactly. Exactly," responded Johnson.
Daniel Feldman of CHC opened the Paonia and Crawford meetings. Feldman said the group is "protecting people and their environment from irresponsible oil and gas development in the Delta County region." He stated the BLM did not realize that one parcel nominated for lease was right next to Crawford School.
The BLM has complete discretion to remove some or all of the parcels from lease, Feldman said. "There are already thousands of acres of land in this area that has already been leased and has yet to be developed," he said. "Everyone including the oil and gas industry acknowledges there are some risks in development. We are here to say to BLM that it makes no sense to risk these particular 30,000 acres when they are so close to our watersheds, our towns, our schools, our farms, our ranches, our roads and our views. Why take such a risk with this beautiful and vulnerable valley?"
Alex Johnson is a new VISTA volunteer working with NWCC for the next year. He spent two weeks placing the boundary lines of the parcels on the Google Earth maps of the proposed lease sites. He showed the video at each of the three meetings. The audience at both Paonia and Crawford appeared to be stunned by the sheer amount of land proposed for oil and gas development and how the parcels are right on top of the towns, the Paonia Reservoir, watersheds and recreational and hunting areas.
"It's unbelievable to see the leases laid out on our landscape." said Crawford resident Ellie Goldstein "It shows the enormity of this project's impact."
To see the aerial video Johnson produced, go online to www.theconservationcenter.org.
Pete Kolbenschlag of Mountain West Strategies spoke about the Resource Management Plan from 1989. He said the RMP is "incapable of protecting the resources. It never looked at water sources, water supplies, irrigation canals, agriculture. It didn't look at how Mancos soil is erodible and what it means to develop in those areas, steep slopes, geologic hazards. Those are standard things in land use plans."
NWCC executive director Sarah Sauter said, "It is particularly important that the BLM suspend judgment on these parcels until all the facts are in. When the new Resource Management Plan comes out we can have an educated and informed dialogue about responsible energy development in the North Fork Valley. Until then, the stakes are too high to make such a big decision.
A new RMP is due in 2013.
Doug Gill, a journalist specializing in the oil and gas industry, has questioned why these parcels were nominated. He writes, "The geology is all wrong. This far south, on the edge of the Piceance Basin, the gas bearing formations are too close to the surface, letting the hydrocarbons drain away. For example, the Mancos Shale is a Piceance target up north in Garfield and Rio Blanco counties in basin center; down here it's a desert known as the Dobies." Then he states, "If gas were found, drilling and producing it would lose money due to the nationwide gas glut that has cut Denver prices from $9/Mcf (thousand cubic feet) in 2008 to $3/Mcf today." He pointed out that a pipeline cover charge of approximately $80 million would be necessary "to gain the right to lose money producing gas."
Some commented on the fact that no one from the oil and gas industry spoke at the meetings. Whoever nominated these parcels has chosen to have their identity kept secret until two days after the Aug. 9 sale. It is known that one person nominated all the parcels in the North Fork and Smith Fork and another individual nominated the parcels in Gunnison County. It is possible for the BLM to nominate the parcels themselves if they need revenue. No one spoke on behalf of the BLM at the meetings.blog comments powered by Disqus