Protecting Colorado’s North Fork Valley from Reckless Fracking

Located on the western slope of Colorado, surrounded by tall peaks and bordered by the Black Canyon National Park, the fertile North Fork Valley, named for the branch of the Gunnison River, is famous for its organic agriculture and vineyards.

But for many years the Bureau of Land Management has pursued drilling plans in the area in the range of 15-30,000 acres with little regard for the agricultural communities that rely on clean water for their livelihoods. Indeed, many parcels proposed by the agency were directly adjacent to organic farms, ranches, and schools, and directly on top of the springs that provide the community’s drinking water.

We filed numerous lawsuits and took legal action 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. After beating back proposal after proposal, we reached a settlement requiring 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.

Protecting Paonia’s Water Supply and Wildlife

In addition to the above victory, we’re challenging another reckless plan in this area, a 146-well Bureau of Land Management master development plan 30 miles northeast of Paonia in Colorado’s Bull Mountain Unit. The plan allows for the construction of up to 33 new well pads, 146 new natural gas wells, and four new wastewater disposal wells on 19,670 acres of federal and private subsurface minerals.

This project is in the middle of three critical watersheds, which provide drinking and irrigation water down valley to residents and farmers who supply the Western Slope and the Front Range with high-quality food. The industrialization of this landscape would also have significant and long-lasting negative impacts on elk and mule deer, ecosystem health and hunting.

The BLM failed to include a reasonable range of alternatives and/or take a hard look at the proposal’s cumulative impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act. We aim to force the agency to consider all the impacts of oil and gas drilling in this area — not just the ones they pick and choose.

In November 2018, the BLM deferred all new leasing in the North Fork Valley until the Uncompahgre Resource Management Plan is completed, thanks in part to our protests, advocacy from Gov. Hickenlooper and Sen. Bennet, and the state of Colorado, Town of Paonia, and Gunnison County.