DELTA COUNTY – Over a thousand residents attended public meetings in the Western Slope communities of Hotchkiss, Paonia, and Crawford recently, where they voiced their concerns about BLM oil and gas leases proposed for the August 9, 2012 lease sale.
It was standing room only as members of Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC) and the Forth Fork River Improvement Association - Western Slope Environmental Resource Council Conservation Center (NWCC) presented information about the proposed lease parcels and the Bureau of Land Management public process. A highlight of the meetings was a Google Earth presentation that flew over a 3D map of the region and visually demonstrated the potential areas of impact, including towns, schools, watersheds and wildlife areas. “It’s unbelievable to see the leases laid out on our landscape,” said Crawford resident Ellie Goldstein. “It shows the enormity of this project’s impact.”
The BLM announced in early December that 30,730 acres of public and private land surrounding communities in the North Fork Valley had been nominated for the August 9 oil and gas lease sale. The North Fork Valley is home to over 70 agricultural businesses, including farmers, winemakers, orchardists and ranchers. Thanks to the comments already received, the BLM has extended the public comment deadline for the sale of the 22 nominated parcels until February 9, 2012.
At the meetings, residents brought up specific concerns about the parcels and potential impacts to their land, water, and quality of life. Landowners voiced concerns about the effects gas and oil drilling would have on domestic and agricultural water sources. Others questioned what it could mean for air quality, roads, grazing leases and established recreational uses such as hiking, biking and hunting. Some of the proposed leases are adjacent to schools and town water systems. Many people wrote letters to the BLM about their concerns. Nearly all residents at the meetings wanted parcels withdrawn from the lease sale.
“It is particularly important that the BLM suspend judgment on these parcels until all the facts are in,” said NWCC’s Sarah Sauter. “When the new Resource Management Plan comes out we can have an educated and informed dialogue about responsible energy development in the North Fork Valley. Until then, the stakes are too high to make such a big decision.
CHC and NWCC are seeking to have all of the 22 parcels withdrawn from the lease sale. “Citizens provided exceptionally detailed information and comments as to why this is such a bad idea for our area and why all of the parcels need to be withdrawn from the sale,” said CHC’s Daniel Feldman.