I am disappointed to read that the oil and gas industry continues to oppose commonsense efforts to protect important public lands in the North Fork Valley and the Thompson Divide from future oil and gas development.
Many members of our community from all across the North Fork Valley have worked to prevent new oil and gas development on critical public lands for years. This conversation has been going on since 2011 when the BLM announced a proposal for 30,000 acres of oil and gas leasing on public lands across the North Fork Valley. For years now, this topic has been of great concern in our community. Fortunately, the BLM has twice now deferred the sale, but the issue is far from a final decision. We continue to await the BLM's revised draft of a Resource Management Plan and hold out hope that the agency will adopt the recommendations of our community's alternative proposal, known as the North Fork Alternative Plan.
In recent months the Delta and Gunnison County Commissioners have gone on record supporting a legislative "mineral withdrawal" of the oil and gas on a large amount of public land across the North Fork Valley. This would remove the threat of the still-pending lease sale fight from 2011 and also remove even more land across the valley from the threat of future oil and gas leasing. We need to try to limit future development to where it is already and most likely to occur, and then be able to direct our attention more closely to where it is occurring. It makes sense to take new development on untouched land off the table so we don't have to worry about fighting this same fight over and over. This is why I appreciate Senator Bennet, and the Delta and Gunnison County Commissioners, for their recognition that while oil and gas drilling is going to continue to happen in some places, that other places should be protected.
I think that most Coloradans would agree, when they look at the Thompson Divide, or the orchards, vineyards and ranches in the North Fork Valley, that these places shouldn't be developed. I'm not happy about the existing development in the watershed, or the idea of more leasing and more drilling. I'm not thrilled about the proposed lease exchange idea, the one being pushed by a drilling company based out of Texas, SG Interests. As much as I don't like it, I recognize that with the existing leases, a major pipeline and existing gas wells in the area of the proposed lease exchange, that ultimately these lands are likely to be leased anyway. We know that is SG Interests' intent anyhow, and that they own the pipeline and many of the wells and infrastructure already in place. Protecting large swaths of public lands in the North Fork Valley and the Thompson Divide is something that most of us can agree on. The prospect of more gas leasing in the North Fork watershed is certainly difficult to accept. However, if it means taking those significant other public lands off the table for something that could likely happen anyway, then that seems like a prudent move to me. I think it will allow us to contain future development to where it is already most likely to occur, and to keep a closer eye on it where it does. We should work together toward this goal, and make sure that the oil and gas lobby doesn't try to roll right over our county commissioners, who for now have said we need to see lands protected here as well, and on both sides of McClure Pass. That is the sensible approach and we need to make sure our elected officials continue to support it.