The BLM's recent an-nouncement of a proposed 20,000-acre oil and gas lease sale in the North Fork Valley proves it institutionally entrenched in persistent indifference to the clearly stated will of the people. Worse still, they demonstrate fawning submissiveness to obsolete processes elevating the business plans of extractive industry over the needs of sustainable human communities.
They rush to lease public lands using outdated resource models while paying lip service to procedures designed to truthfully assess the impacts of resource extractions on public lands. This is utterly unacceptable.
Despite the overwhelmingly negative response to the proposed lease sale of lands surrounding the North Fork Valley from ranchers, coalmen, farmers, anglers and hunters, the BLM has decided to dismiss legitimate concerns and proceed with another lease sale this winter. It was a horrific idea to lease the North Fork in 2012 and it is just as horrific in 2013.
While the agency has removed some of the proposed acreage for issues related to steep slopes, they have retained the majority of leases slated for sale. Unfortunately, the fundamental issues raised earlier are just as germane now as they were then. The risks of drilling in this unique valley remain simply too great for any short-term, minimal return. These risks include: contamination of irrigation water and crops and decreasing monetary value of irrigation shares, contamination of streams, rivers, drinking water and domestic water supplies, contamination of the air from airborne contaminants, ozone and smog, damage to organic farming, viticulture and apiary operations, damage to multiple uses of BLM lands, damage to nearby wilderness areas and Black Canyon National Park and damage to the sustainable economic viability of the North Fork Valley.
Other issues the BLM has inadequately addressed include the present severe drought and the unreasonable stress to local water supplies that will ensue in obtaining water for gas well fracking. There still is no viable method to export gas from the North Fork Valley and there is inadequate highway to support frack fluid and waste water transport into and out of the valley. In short, the BLM has utterly failed to support its assertion that oil and gas leasing in the North Fork will have minimal negative impacts to the daily lives of its inhabitants, or to the financial and environmental health of the valley and the broader region. On these grounds alone, their plan must be resisted and rejected.
As if this isn't enough, it is mind-boggling to understand their rush to lease. For the foreseeable future, there is a glut of natural gas on the market, depressing prices well below the ability of any company to recoup costs of exploration and development. The U.S. has become a net exporter of the product, calling into question the relentless propaganda that this rush to lease is all about energy independence. Rather, it seems that these lands are slated to be nothing more than another pawn in the gas industry's long-term deal-making strategies, yet another example of "privatize the profits while socializing the costs." While in the past this may just have been business as usual, gambling with the public and its property in this manner is simply offensive.
Further, the current lease proposal is entirely based upon assessments made in a 1989 Resource Management Plan (RMP), one that was developed well before the subsequent economic development that has occurred in the North Fork's agricultural sector. A new RMP is slated to be released in 2013. Shouldn't the BLM hew to its mandate to well assess all impacts prior to making the far-reaching decisions? Are they attempting to get this done before the new RMP identifies the many sound reasons to exclude natural gas activities from the North Fork?
The people of the North Fork have been very clear. We were against natural gas development here last year and we remain against it now. The answer is still a resounding NO.
I call upon the BLM to withdraw all proposed leases from the February 2013 lease sale and to defer any further consideration of leasing in the North Fork Valley at least until the new RMP is complete. I further call upon all citizens who care for the long term viability of this valley to make every effort to defeat the BLM's most recent proposals.