Agency Urged to Finish Resource Management Plan First
NORTH FORK VALLEY – Formal protests have been voiced to the Bureau of Land Management by conservation groups, legal centers, realtors and individuals in the North Fork Valle, calling on the agency to remove all 20 parcels and 20,555 acres from the planned Feb. 14, 2013 oil and gas lease sale.
The Paonia-based conservation group Citizens for a Healthy Community (which formed a year ago in the wake of the parcels’ anonymous nomination for drilling) in concert with the Western Environmental Law Center filed a formal protest earlier this month, saying the proposed drilling and fracking “threaten to pollute the communities’ drinking and agricultural water supplies, breathable air, and a thriving rural economy.”
CHC asked the BLM to “follow the law and hold off leasing these parcels pending the completion of the area’s comprehensive Resource Management Plan, which hasn’t been updated since the Reagan Administration.”
For its part, the BLM said, when placing the North Fork parcels back on the auction calendar a month ago, that “leasing decisions cannot be based on draft RMPs.” A new draft RMP is due out in April 2013.
“The BLM’s decision to move forward with leasing is unconscionable given the outdated science and planning for these lands,” said CHC Director Jim Ramey. “The agency has failed to consider how oil and gas development, including modern drilling techniques such as fracking, would impact people living in the North Fork Valley. Their decision to move forward is reckless.”
The mere fact of having the parcels on the auction block has affected business, wrote local realtor Bob Lario. In his own protest, filed to insist the BLM consider socio-economic impacts of drilling, Lario wrote: “BLM is missing the point on this, they just don't get it. The mere threat of oil and gas leasing has already had economic impacts to not only my business, but many of the businesses in the valley. We have already lost property sales because people don't want to buy a home in an area that's being eyed for oil and gas drilling.”
The comment period ended Dec. 17.
JUDGE REJECTS OIL & GAS COLLUSION SETTLEMENT
In other oil and gas news, on Dec. 12 in Denver, U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch denied a proposed settlement between the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice and Gunnison Energy Corporation and SG Interests. The two energy companies had been accused of working together to keep bid prices low at BLM lease auctions.
The settlement would have been the culmination of a complaint brought by the Department of Justice that charged GEC and SGI with collusion in bidding for federal mineral leases offered by the Bureau of Land Management.
“We are please that the Court rejected this sweetheart deal for Gunnison Energy and SG Interests,” said Citizens for a Healthy Community Director Jim Ramey. “The Department of Justice needs to crack down on these companies for the very serious allegations of defrauding taxpayers and the federal government, not just let them off the hook with a slap on the wrist. These companies need to be held to a higher standard when doing business on America’s public lands.”
In April 2012, CHC and other conservation groups urged the Department of Justice and the courts to reconsider the proposed settlement because of the seriousness in defrauding the U.S. government.
In denying the $550,000 settlement, the judge agreed, writing, “There is no basis for saying that the approval of these settlements would act as a deterrence to these defendants and others in the industry.”
The judge described GEC’s response to public comments about the proposed settlement as demonstrating “unrepentant arrogance,” that to the company the $550,000 fine was “nothing more than a payment to be rid of this nuisance.” He went on to conclude, “It is not in the public interest to approve a final judgment that permits a defendant to leave its civil action in such a smirking, self-righteous attitude.”