Last Friday, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its 281-page Final Environmental Assessment (EA) on 20 parcels in the North Fork Valley, first nominated for oil and gas leasing last December. With the EA was its Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). Nov. 16 begins a 30-day protest period that ends on Dec. 17.
The lease sale is scheduled for Feb. 14.
The BLM says the proposed action is to offer parcels for competitive leasing for oil and gas exploration and development in accordance with the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920.
Earlier this year, the BLM had decided to defer all 22 parcels pending additional studies. They are working with a two-decade old Resource Management Plan (RMP). That plan is in the process of being updated, but has not been completed.
The BLM has reduced the original number of last year's parcels from 22 to 20 and removed about 9,000 acres from the proposal. The parcels now cover 20,555 acres around Hotchkiss, Paonia and Crawford.
The parcels were originally proposed for a lease sale this past August. Community response was immediate and unprecedented. The BLM received 2,982 comment letters from individuals, organizations and government agencies. The Uncompahgre Field Office in Montrose was picketed.
BLM's FONSI is based on information in the EA and Lonny R. Bagley's criteria for what constitutes a significant impact. Bagley is the deputy state director for the BLM at the Colorado State Office.
He writes, "It is my determination that: 1) the implementation of the Preferred Alternative will not have significant environmental impacts; 2) the Preferred Alternative is in conformance with the Uncompahgre Basin RMP; and 3) the Preferred Alternative does not constitute a major federal action having significant effects on the human environment. Therefore, an Environmental Impact Statement is not necessary."
Bagley writes, "The effects on the quality of the human environment are not likely to be highly controversial. Oil and gas leasing has been occurring in an area primarily north and west of the Paonia Reservoir State Park and in the general area, and the effects of oil and gas leasing are generally well understood. In addition, mitigation measures as described in Chapter 3 of the EA could be incorporated into the selected action and would reduce anticipated impacts."
The Aug. 2012 parcels have a new number for the Feb. 2013 sale. The original parcel numbers were in order from 6189 to 6207 and then 6211 and 6215 - 6217. The corresponding parcel numbers for Feb. are from 6623 to 6622.
The EA contains maps of the proposed and preferred alternative actions.
Future oil and gas development, the EA states, is "difficult to foresee." However, "It is estimated that the area will average 20 new wells per year (assumes at least 2 wells per pad — 10 new pads per year). This will then create approximately 68 acres of new disturbance per year from oil and gas development."
In addition, SG Interests' master plan wants to drill and produce 150 wells from about 46 pads in the Bull Mountain Unit in nearby Gunnison County.
After initial review of the EA, local conservationist groups have released their concerns about the plan.
"We are pleased to see that the BLM has removed 9,000 acres — including Mt. Jumbo and Paonia's municipal watershed — but it just isn't good enough" says Sarah Sauter, executive director of the Conservation Center. "The remaining parcels still include selenium rich Mancos shale, miles of irrigation ditches, drinking water springs and valuable wildlife habitat. The BLM's choice to proceed is especially disappointing in light of the soon-to-be-released BLM Uncompahgre Field Office draft Resource Management Plan (RMP). The new RMP will replace the woefully out-dated 1989 RMP as the guiding document for land management decisions. The old document does not even consider fracking or horizontal drilling.
"It is disappointing that the BLM would not make sure proper updated management is in place before it would even think about doing something like this" said Sauter. "The BLM should defer these North Fork parcels from lease sale until they complete the RMP or an Environmental Impact Statement."
The Conservation Center will file an official protest.
"This was a bad idea last December and it's still a bad idea today," said Citizens for a Healthy Community director Jim Ramey. "Our community pulled together to fight the lease sale earlier this year, and we will pull together again. We have business owners, sportsmen, farmers, and other citizens all on the same page on this — leasing these lands is inappropriate and incompatible with today's North Fork Valley."
Citizens for a Healthy Community will continue to oppose the leasing of these lands.
"Colorado's North Fork Valley has become a premier destination for its wineries, farms, orchards, artists, and food culture. Nothing about today's North Fork was ever considered by the BLM in its 25-year old management plan and it is simply wrong, based upon that plan, to open these lands up for oil and gas," said Ty Gillespie, owner and operator of Azura Cellars and Gallery in Paonia. "People here deserve better from our government than to be ignored, and America's public lands deserve more as well."blog comments powered by Disqus