Conservationists Applaud BLM’s Decision to Withdraw Oil & Gas Leases Threatening the North Fork Valley

Relentless pressure from the community to protect their homes and livelihoods pays off

May 2, 2012

Listen to interview on KVNF

Today, the Bureau of Land Management announced the deferral of all 22 parcels and 30,000 acres of public lands surrounding the Colorado’s North Fork Valley from the August 2012 oil and gas lease sale, opting to conduct additional analysis on these parcels based on public input. (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.)

Citizens for Healthy Communities (CHC) partnered with the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) to challenge BLM’s proposed August 2012 lease sale. CHC actively engaged the public and the BLM throughout the process, including hosting three public hearings to give North Fork Valley residents a chance to comment on the lease sale after BLM refused to host a public hearing. The hearings were attended by more than 1,000 citizens.

“This is a tremendous victory for the people of the North Fork Valley and it’s proof that we can have an impact,” said Daniel Feldman, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Citizens for a Healthy Community. “We appreciate that BLM made the right decision and listened to the overwhelming public opposition to the lease sale. We would also like to thank State Senator Gail Schwartz, and U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall for their attention and support throughout this process.”

“BLM’s preliminary environmental analysis was severely flawed and failed to account for the many direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of the proposed oil and gas development,” said WELC Attorney, Kyle Tisdel.
The choice to defer the lease sale, rather than permanently removing this land from consideration, leaves the door open for BLM to develop this land in the future.

“The decision today is not the end of the fight to protect the North Fork Valley from irresponsible oil and gas development,” Feldman said. “The BLM now needs to ensure that all of the North Fork Valley is permanently protected from oil and gas development through the revision of the Resource Management Plan.” WELC Attorney Tisdel added: “We will remain involved to make sure that the development of oil and gas on public lands does not trump the North Fork Valley’s other precious resources.”

In addition to the three public hearings, on March 31, CHC hosted a half-day public informational forum where experts on oil and gas development presented to more than 220 members of the community. In April, CHC also sent North Fork Valley residents to Washington, DC to meet with Obama Administration officials at the BLM, as well as the Council on Environmental Quality, to urge the withdrawal of all 22 parcels from the lease sale.

These community efforts resulted in thousands of public comment letters that were sent to BLM during both the scoping and draft environmental assessment comment periods for the August 2012 lease sale. WELC submitted comments on behalf of CHC during both comment periods, identifying significant issues with BLM’s approach.

“While I am thrilled that BLM has taken these 22 parcels off the table, at least for now, this represents just one of many threats to a region inundated by oil and gas development,” said Tisdel. “Just a few miles north, BLM is currently reviewing a 150-well development proposal in the Bull Mountain area, using a similarly flawed approach to analysis that we identified in the August 2012 Lease Sale. BLM needs to take a step back and put a halt to all this industrial scale development until the Uncompahgre Field Office completes the much-needed revision to their outdated Resource Management Plan.”

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