Victory! North Fork Valley Oil & Gas Challenge (CO)

Located on the western slope of Colorado, surrounded by tall peaks and bordered by the Black Canyon National Park, the fertile North Fork Valley is famous for its organic agriculture and vineyards. The Valley's namesake, the North Fork of the Gunnison River, a tributary to the Colorado River, allows for this abundance. These waters also attract fly fishers, boaters, and wildlife enthusiasts.  

On December 9, 2011, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced plans to lease 22 parcels (nearly 30,000 acres) of public land encircling this valley to oil & gas developers. The parcels encompass springs that provide the community's drinking and agricultural water supply, and entire mountains used for recreation. The parcels are directly adjacent to organic farms, ranches and schools. (Note: 77% of Colorado's apples and 71% of it's peaches come from family farms in the North Fork Valley.)

Aware that the proposed oil & gas development would destroy North Fork's unique landscape and threaten their livelihood, the community fought back with public hearings, rallies, concerts – anything to raise awareness and get folks engaged.

Victory! Working hand-in-hand with the local grassroots all volunteer group Citizens for a Healthy Community, WELC created an administrative record so impressive that on May 2, 2012, BLM announced it would defer the lease of all 22 parcels!

However, the fight to protect this valley is not over. The leases were not cancelled, just deferred, and the vicinity remains open to natural gas exploitation. As such, we will remain vigilant in our efforts to protecting this valley and our public lands from irresponsible oil and gas development. 

Update November 2012 - We are back in high gear. The Bureau of Land Management announced plans to move forward with controversial plans to lease more than 20,000 acres of land in western Colorado's North Fork Valley for oil and gas development. The leases on 20 parcels will be offered in a February oil and gas lease sale, the BLM said in a release announcing the lease sale of 198 parcels totaling 15,000 acres across the state. (This is down from 30,000 acres orginally proposed but the effect on the community would still be devastating.) 

Update December 2012 - To protect the communities’ drinking and agricultural water supply, clean air, and thriving rural economy, we submitted a formal protest with the BLM Colorado State Office seeking removal of all public lands in the North Fork Valley scheduled to be sold in the February 2013 oil and gas lease sale. The BLM has 60 days to rule on our petition. If denied, we will go to court to stop this irresponsible gas fracking project.

Update February 2013 Victory! - BLM announced the deferral of all 20 parcels in the North Fork Valley from the February 2013 oil and gas lease sale. In a release, the agency announced that the parcels would be addressed through ongoing planning efforts at the local BLM Uncompahgre Field Office. 

Update February 6, 2013 Victory! - BLM withdrew the oil & gas drilling project in the rural communities of Colorado's North Fork Valley! Now, we will focus our attention on permanently protecting these communities' critical resources.

6/14/13:  Victory! U.S. Forest Service Withdraws Drilling Approval in Gunnison National Forest. In response to our legal advocacy, the U.S. Forest Service has announced that it is withdrawing its decision to approve an oil and gas drilling permit in Colorado's Gunnison National Forest near the headwaters of the Gunnison River. This is an important win in our efforts to protect Colorado's North Fork Valley.

1/31/14: BLM is again attempting to drill in the Gunnison National Forest without the proper environmental analysis. We filed suit in District Court to protect the headwaters of the North Fork of the Gunnison River and the downstream farming communities that depend on clean water for their farms, ranches, and families.

1/20/15: Victory! The U.S. Forest Service withdraws oil and gas drilling approval in the Gunnison National Forest, headwaters of the North Fork Valley. We filed the lawsuit because the Forest Service had approved oil and gas development in the region in a piecemeal, project-by-project fashion without conducting a cumulative impacts analysis of all the approved drilling projects on the region’s water and air quality, wildlife, and down-river communities. We celebrate this victory as we have settled the lawsuit after the government agrees to conduct a comprehensive environmental analysis of the drilling project. The settlement requires the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to conduct a joint environmental analysis of the drilling project and to make that analysis available to the public for review and input.

(WELC project #631, 656, 657, 659, and 688)