BLM plans oil and gas lease sale in North Fork Valley over protests
The Bureau of Land Management on Friday said it would move forward with controversial plans to lease more than 20,000 acres of land in western Colorado's North Fork Valley for oil and gas development.
The leases on 20 parcels will be offered in a February oil and gas lease sale, the BLM said in a release announcing the lease sale of 198 parcels totaling 115,000 acres across the state.
The bureau plans to lease 20 parcels covering 20,555 acres of public lands in the valley, which is home to Hotchkiss, Crawford and Paonia. The initial plan was to lease nearly 30,000 acres on 22 parcels.
Residents of the valley have fought the plan, arguing the area should elevate its organic farming, agritourism and thriving wine industry over oil and gas.
"It was a bad idea then and it is a bad idea now," said Jim Ramey, director of the Paonia-based Citizens for a Healthy Community, on Friday. "This is all based on a 1989 resource management plan and science from 1985. It is really incredibly disappointing to see them move forward. Oil and gas and a peaceful, serene valley do not go hand in hand."
In May, the BLM removed the parcels from a planned August lease sale, with the bureau citing the need for deeper analysis. Since December last year the bureau has gathered public input and studied the environmental impact of drilling for oil and gas in the North Fork Valley, which is home to 47 active wells.
BLM spokeswoman Vanessa Lacayo said the proposal gleaned 300 public comments. The original plan was whittled from 22 to 20 parcels, and 13 were amended, with roughly one-third of the initial acreage initially proposed for the lease sale dropped from the plan.
Those 9,335 acres were removed from the plan to protect watersheds and resources in areas with steep slopes. The bureau removed 40 acres from the plan due to proximity to a school. The bureau added site-specific mitigation requirements for all 20 North Fork Valley parcels, aiming to protect water and limit impacts to air quality.
"For almost a full year we have been looking at this area," Lacayo said.
The 198 parcels being offered by the BLM in February span the bureau's lands in Little Snake, Royal Gorge, Tres Rios and Uncompahgre field offices northwestern, south central and southwestern Colorado.
The BLM is accepting protests to the plan at its Lakewood headquarters through Dec. 17.