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No-leasing alternative is best for the North Fork

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Dear Editor:

Clarification of June 29, 2016 article "BLM open house attracts 150-plus." The BLM's Draft Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact Study for the Uncompahgre Field Office is a 20- to 30-year management plan for our public lands. It is considering four different alternatives, and one sub-alternative specific to oil and gas in the North Fork Valley.

BLM's preferred alternative opens 94.5 percent of total oil and gas mineral acreage to leasing, and is a road map to industrializing the North Fork Valley with oil and gas development. With respect to the North Fork Valley, it would open virtually every acre to oil and gas leasing. Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC), the Western Slope Conservation Center, and five other organizations representing diverse interests in the North Fork Valley, including ranching, farming, wine making, real estate and business, submitted the North Fork Alternative Plan (NFAP) in February 2013 to the BLM for consideration. The NFAP closes 75 percent of lands to oil and gas leasing and adds significant protections to the remaining 25 percent. Of the alternatives BLM is considering, the NFAP is the best relative to the oil and gas impacts, and 75 percent better than the BLM's preferred alternative.

CHC very much appreciates that the BLM has considered this alternative, and would be pleased to see it adopted in the final RMP. However, given what we now know about the impacts of oil and gas to human health, our environment and climate change, we believe that a no-leasing alternative represents the best way to protect the North Fork Valley and ensure our community can continue to thrive in the future. The BLM has a multiple use mandate, which does not obligate it to lease every acre, nor does it prevent it from exercising its discretion in closing off lands in a sensitive area. A no-leasing alternative for the North Fork Valley area is reasonable. Given that the BLM did not conduct a human health impact assessment, and what we now know regarding the frequency of surface and ground water contamination from oil and gas operations, the potential to fragment or destroy wildlife habitat, which directly impacts hunting and fishing in the area, along with the potential to destroy not only a significant foodshed, but Colorado's largest concentration of organic farms, the BLM should have considered a no-leasing alternative as well. We encourage others to call for a no-leasing alternative. While the NFAP is 75 percent better than the BLM's preferred alternative, a no-leasing alternative is 100 percent better.

In 2012, North Fork Valley residents organized and submitted over 3,000 comments to the BLM in protest of a 30,000-acre lease sale. We were successful in fighting back that sale, and the latter 20,000-acre lease sale in part because the BLM relied on a 30-year-old RMP, which did not consider how the valley had changed over the last 30 years, nor the impacts of hydraulic fracturing and multi-stage drilling technologies, among other significant issues. The BLM's preferred alternative still does not consider how the changes in technology will impact human health, wildlife habitat -- including hunting and fishing populations, the environment, and the local economy. Relative to oil and gas, Alternative D, BLM's preferred alternative, is only a .1 percent improvement over the existing 30-year RMP. BLM can do better and valley residents should demand better.

Natasha Leger
Citizens for a
Healthy Community

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