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.