The United States is on the cusp of an oil and gas boom. New discoveries and advanced extraction technology may have placed the holy grail of energy independence within reach.
However, pursuit of that grail by the extraction of fossil hydrocarbons at any cost is a quest that many in Delta County are unwilling to engage in.
A sizable portion of local public lands, managed within Delta County by the Uncompahgre Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), have been nominated for leasing for oil and gas exploration and, if feasible, development. To guide its decision process regarding which lands are suitable for energy development, under what conditions and under what restrictions, the BLM looks to an internally generated planning document called the Resource Management Plan (RMP). Faced with changes in local economy, changes in scientific knowledge, changes in energy technology, and changes in local usage of public lands, the Uncompahgre Field Office of the BLM has wisely opted to revise the existing 30-year-old RMP to incorporate up-to-date information and thus provide better guidance for better decisions.
When drafting a new RMP, the BLM process requires that it develop multiple alternative proposed methods of managing the lands under its control. These alternatives are meant to fully explore the extent of options available to the BLM, and range from "continue as in the past" to "manage with far fewer restrictions," to "manage with many more restrictions." Additionally, the federal court system has ruled that when the public demonstrates its desire to be heard, as we have by causing the deferral of the last two lease proposals, the BLM must respond by seriously addressing its concerns and by considering proposals made by the public at large.
The North Fork Alternative is just such a grassroots proposal, and is meant to address the concerns of the public at large concerning large scale oil and gas exploration and development on over 20,000 acres of BLM-administered lands surrounding the North Fork of the Gunnison. Over the past year, a small group of local citizens, representing local agriculture, wineries, agritourism, ditch companies, real estate, ranching, conservation, and public lands has been meeting to craft inputs to the BLM RMP process. The North Fork Alternative is the result of this ongoing effort and captures, graphically and in prose, those features of our local public lands that we in the valley treasure and depend upon. The North Fork Alternative specifically identifies public lands characteristics ranging from irrigation structures, watersheds, springs, municipal water sources and domestic wells, to elk migration corridors, critical breeding habitat, popular hunting areas, hiking and biking trails, and includes prime and unique farm lands, one of Colorado's two American viticultural areas, and the view and vistas of the valley we call home. The North Fork Alternative calls on the BLM, in the language of the BLM, to take specific actions to preserve and protect these characteristics when a proposal to undertake large scale hydrocarbon exploration and development is made.
The North Fork Alternative is not a demand that all oil and gas exploration cease. Rather it is a demand that such activities continue only where, and under the condition that, they do not damage the features of the public lands that we depend upon for our water, our livelihoods and our recreation. The North Fork Alternative demands that the oil and gas industry, as with any other business, shoulder its own costs of production and not attempt to pass those costs on to the public at large. It demands that the BLM manage its lands so as to protect our watersheds, to protect our drinking water, and to conserve our soils and wildlife. The North Fork Alternative demands that the BLM acknowledge the value of our unique agriculture, viticulture and ranching economy, and take specific action to avoid damage to that economy. Further, it demands that our vistas, our dark skies, our pastoral neighborhoods and our quiet country lanes not be casually sacrificed in pursuit of the grail.
More detailed information on the North Fork Alternative, as proposed to the BLM, is available at: www.theconservation
Let your local, state and national elected representatives know you support the North Fork Alternative and that you expect county, state and federal agencies to pursue energy development with the utmost care and with respect for existing, established uses of the land.