Protecting the Heart of Colorado’s North Fork Valley (blog)

From the Keystone XL pipeline to President Obama’s recent State of the Union address, the shale gas boom and push toward “energy independence” has been grabbing headlines across the country.

WELC is working to ensure that such development does not take place without the environmental safeguards and common sense necessary to protect the communities and the wildlife that play host to this explosion of dirty energy production. In this work, rarely have we seen as brazen and audacious an approach as is currently facing the communities of the North Fork Valley, on Colorado’s western slope.  

I just returned from an amazing community event where hundreds of North Fork Valley concerned citizens spoke out against this dirty energy exploitation that threatens their way of life.  But first, let me start by setting the scene.

The North Fork Valley – which is surrounded by tall bucolic peaks and bordered by the Black Canyon National Park – is home to the highest concentration of organic farms, ranches, orchards and vineyards in the state of Colorado.  It is also the home of the salt-of-the-earth type of people you would expect to be behind such a flourishing agricultural community.  

Astonishingly, the Bureau of Land Management is threatening all of this with a proposal to open 30,000 acres of this area to oil and gas development through a 22-parcel lease sale late this summer.  The proposed oil & gas parcels encircle the small organic farming communities of Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford, placing a dirty energy noose around the valley. Indeed, it is bewildering to see where many of the oil & gas drilling leases are located: encompassing springs that provide municipal water and entire mountains used for recreation.  In many cases, the parcels are directly adjacent to organic farms, ranches and even schools!  (Take a short satellite tour of the parcels.)

For months now, we have been assisting Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC), a local all-volunteer group, in their effort to stop this lease sale.  And this weekend, I visited the area to attend the community hearing CHC sponsored after the BLM refused to hold one.  Colorado State Senator Gail Schwartz moderated the event and I had the honor of addressing the crowd early on, providing some background information as well as the legal framework through which we will challenge this proposal should BLM continue to move forward in their plan to open the Valley to industry exploitation. 

These folks are fired up!  More than 500 people attended the standing room only event. For four hours, the farmers, ranchers, vintners, artists and entrepreneurs of the North Fork Valley spoke in a unified and common voice – every single person vehemently opposed the proposed oil and gas development. 

Among those who spoke was revered environmental advocate and Valley resident, Theo Colborn, who provided moving testimony on the harmful impacts that VOCs - a byproduct of shale gas development - can have on the endocrine system and human health.  Countless others provided poignant remarks on the personal and community impacts that promise to result from this horrifying proposal, including impacts to organic agriculture, water, air quality, plant and animal species, noise, traffic, viewscapes … the list of concerns goes on and on.  

It is an honor to work with these folks and to attend their community event.  I enjoy getting to know the diverse group of people who call the North Fork Valley home.  It is these people and these relationships that make this Valley worth fighting for – and that is just what WELC intends to do.   



For Tax Free Exports

We don't need the gas. Someday when we do, it will be gone. Most of it will be exported tax free, pipelines running through peoples homes all the way to coastal ports. The Department of Energy doesn't seem to care about what the people want, our health or welfare, just a quick buck and some for themselves. So why do we let big companies wreck our property and endanger the people tax free?? Gas companies don't have to pay a user fee or export tax. If I did what they do, the Sheriff would be called and I'd be hauled away for distruction of private property. Always a double standard for big money. Now why do you suppose that is?.

What it's like...

I went outside to feed my horses and there was the smell of gunpowder in the air. Strange, I thought, but didn't make much of it. However, the smell continued night and day for maybe a week.

Then after a few days, I saw a fire up at the end of the road, perhaps 1/4 to a 1/2 mile distant. Since it is very dry here and fire can spread rapidly, I called the fire department. They came immediately to check it out and I was told it was not a grass fire, but burning off gas from a newly drilled well. I asked about the gunpowder smell and they confirmed it was from drilling the well.

A couple of years ago a 2 acre place with a nice home and some horse pasture sold somewhere in the $325,000 - $375,000 range. This is across the road and not far from me. The irrigation ditch from which we all get our our water runs just behind it. A sweet piece of property. 2 months after they bought it, trucks begin coming and going and 3 huge white tanks appear just across the ditch behind the house. Then come the lights and the constant noise. Another well is being prepared. So much for peace and comfort and forget about re-sale.

Another day the ditch rider came by and we began discussing the pipelines in my immediate area. He pointed to the house directly across from me. "See that staircase that goes up to their second story? The pipeline runs right under those stairs."

Now there is a constant fire on top of one of the hills that border this little valley - another well.

When I dig in the soil, the smell of the soil is rancid. It just doesn't smell like dirt. I would never plant a vegetable garden here. I miss my fresh vegetables and herbs. I feel safer purchasing vegies at the supermarket than at the local farmer's market.

The air, water and soil are all polluted here. This is a terrible way to live and one doesn't realize it until they have the direct experience. This is what it's like.

I had planned to "come home" to the North Fork this spring. Knowing what I now know, it is shattering for me to envision what can happen there. Do everything you can to prevent it. My support is with you all.

BLM's mandate

Isn't part of the BLM mandate to protect our natural resources? And for everyone? Isn't this a basis for a lawsuit against the US gov?

Re: Natural Gas Collaborative Group and "facts"

In the Delta County Independent, Feb. 1, a front page article reports that a joint government-industry group will hold a "forum" on March 3 at Hotchkiss High, where they will present "factual information" to the public about gas drilling. Barb Sharrow of BLM says we need to have our minds relieved with these "facts". Sarah Souter, director of NFRIA-WSERC is quoted as saying that some people in the North Fork Valley are "pretty nervous" and "scared", and are listening to another group, unnamed in the article. This raises questions:

We know who the "other group" is. Why was it unnamed? Aren't CHC and NFRIA-WSERC working together on this?

Everyone has access to multiple sources of information on gas drilling, and many of us "nervous" people have scientific and engineering backgrounds. We have done the research and can interpret what we find. What "facts" could they have that we don't already know? And if they have facts" that they haven't made available, why haven't they presented them before?

The proposal that they can calm our "nervousness" with their "facts" is insulting.
They are the ones who have failed to get the real facts, facts about this Valley that they wish to desecrate. They only hope to calm our "fears" with their propaganda. Haven't we seen this enough times before to know what's going on?

The Northfork valley

I am a resident of the Northfork valley for 14 years. My name is Mr. Baril. I attended this meeting described precisely as Kyle has written. Indeed, it brought hope to listen to one eloquent resident after another speak so passionately regarding our most special home. I was one of may there who was not afforded time for to speak at the meeting. I own 40 acres adjacent to BLM land at the base of Mt Lamborn, a 12,000+ foot peak which is a land mark to the northfork valley. I am one of so many who are in a state of shock at the potential disaster to the environment, our water, air and the private lands and public lands which surround our valley. Also, the economic disaster this would bring to our valley would be so long lasting that it would spell the ruination of the entire way of life to the largest organic farming area in the state of Colorado. The local, as well as from many from afar, public out pouring of vehement protest against BLM considering even one one of these gas leases is gaining ground, and proving to be across the board against the proposed devastation. Protest letters are pouring in by the hundreds to BLM before the deadline of February 9th. The protests are based on facts and clear understanding of what is at stake. And the BLM must consider the position of our local public as well. But will they? And who are they? And what kind of pressure are they under from the money of these profiteering gas drilling companies and the federal government to rape our public lands and destroy the health of our local people, children, and the quality of life of our community who live here, precisely because of the pristine environment that we have here: Clean water. Clean air, and a gateway the the West Elk wilderness and Ragged Mountain wilderness areas.
I commend the efforts going on by so many intelligent, well informed and heart felt lovers of our most special home in the Northfork valley. May we make a difference coming up against the profiteering power of such big money players as the gas drilling fracking industry. Which is a daunting task to undertake from a small size, but very special population. We are not a ski town. We are an agricultural based community also with many artists and small business operations, who will find the value our retirements and property values plummet in the face of these leases being granted. BLM must consider the overwhelming majority protests against this 30,000 acre leasing to the gas drilling industry, based on the sound facts presented by each and every protest letter. If they do not, i can only hope legal intervention would then prevail.

Blog Profile


As part of our Climate & Energy Program, Kyle works on behalf of communities throughout the West to end our dependence on dirty energy produced from coal, oil and gas, while helping to promote a transition to clean, renewable energy. Prior to joining WELC in 2011, Kyle practiced in Washington and Colorado where his work focused on environmental, land use and real property issues, and he has traveled to India on several occasions to contribute to a variety of public service projects. Kyle received a B.A. in International Relations from Michigan State University, and earned his law degree from Vermont Law School. Kyle works from our Southwest Office, 575-751-0351 x 134

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This blog explores inside information from WELC's smart, dedicated attorneys, scientists and policy experts who have committed their lives to defending the American West. Our experts take their unique knowledge, mix it with long hours of reflection in the saddle of a bicycle, hiking a long & winding trail, paddling a river, or skiing the mountains and share with you their insights and perspectives. We hope you enjoy the results!