Two seemingly unrelated key area events have occurred. First, the Bureau of Land Management's Uncompahgre Field Office (UFO) released the Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) that will direct management of all BLM land and mineral rights in Delta County for at least the next 20 years. Public comments on the RMP are due Nov. 1, 2016. Second, Region 10 was awarded a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant. This grant funded a study by Better City to identify areas to improve and enhance the economic resiliency and sustainability of Delta County. The local leader was Delta County Economic Development (DCED), with support from Region 10, county chambers, county businesses, and county administration. The recommendations state that we need to create a nationally recognized organic center of excellence, build a locally produced food destination retail venue, establish a regional food hub, expand and add food processing operations, develop an agricultural technology manufacturing innovation center, build a national brand select service hotel in Delta, develop a corridor to the river, and develop county recreational assets and improve trails.
DCED, the county chambers of commerce, the City of Delta, and the BOCC all seem to have bought into the Better City plan. DCED is currently working on feasibility studies for several of the recommendations and has won support from the state for a countywide branding effort. However, BLM's "preferred RMP alternative" includes oil and gas development in Delta County that presents an unacceptable risk to the entire economic plan developed by Better City and the Delta County partners.
The industrial development of O&G, assuming no spills or accidents, would greatly weaken the call to tourists for our recreational assets and would crush the picture consumers have of organic farming, farmer's markets, and farm to table dinners. O&G development guarantees significant spill events resulting in surface water contamination that will directly impact Delta County's farm irrigation water. Once contaminated irrigation water reaches our organic farms, you have eliminated the draw of tourists and foodies to Delta County for vegetables, fruits, wine and all other agriculture products. How many people will want to come to Delta County to ride mountain bikes, ATVs or snowmobiles, or hunt elk and deer in a gas patch? Who would be interested in kayaking or fishing on an O&G polluted river?
Okay, you are likely thinking that I'm some wild eco-friendly person that had a nightmare. Here is proof that my concerns are real and are already happening in other parts of the west. A report released Aug. 24, 2016, by the Western Values Project on the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service found oil and gas development near national parks is driving away visitors at significant rates. See the report at http://western
valuesproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Parks-Drilling-Report-8-24-16-.pdf. The report highlights visitation trends at five national park units in four Western states, and correlates declining visitation to increases in oil and gas drilling activity near each site. For these five national parks on average visitation decreased by 28 percent, with 40 percent and 43 percent declines for Utah's Dinosaur National Park and Chaco Culture National Historic Park in New Mexico, respectively. Since Delta County doesn't have a national park type draw, it is more than reasonable to assume that O&G development will impact Delta County even harder than areas with a national park.
When I look at the map of the planning area it looks like 85 percent of land is federal mineral estate. The BLM proposes to open 95 percent of that to oil and gas development. Logistics analysis demonstrates that the more parts you add to a system, the shorter the mean time to failure. So, just because there will be some O&G development on private property and already leased public areas, doesn't mean that adding more wells in Delta County won't matter. Additional wells will matter a lot! Therefore, it seems that the BOCC and the rest of the county has to be sure to tell the UFO that the only acceptable RMP for Delta County must include no O&G leasing within Delta County or in the Gunnison County land between the eastern Delta County line to McClure Pass.