North Fork Valley, Colorado
Conservationists submitted extensive and detailed comments today calling on the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to give greater balance to conservation issues in their consideration of a proposed large-scale drilling project in the North Fork of the Gunnison River watershed. The groups requested a full analysis of social costs of carbon, including methane and carbon emissions, and urged protective measures such as phased-in development, ongoing air and water monitoring, and greater distance between drilling and water supplies.
The comments were submitted by the Western Environmental Law Center on behalf of community groups in the North Fork Valley and conservationists across Colorado, including Citizens for a Healthy Community, High Country Conservation Advocates, Western Colorado Congress, Wilderness Workshop, the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, the Crystal River Caucus, EcoFlight, WildEarth Guardians, Rocky Mountain Wild, and the Rocky Mountain Recreation Initiative.
“Local farmers, and the land on which they live and raise food, need to be protected from the negative effects of drilling,” said Steve Ela, fifth-generation Delta County farmer and owner of Ela Family Farms near Hotchkiss. “Local farmers won’t benefit from the drilling. Gas development upriver is a tough sell for our community, and pushes the long-term economic development of our area in the wrong direction.”
“The North Fork Valley has been named Colorado’s farm to table capital and a certified creative district. We can’t risk that reputation with more boom-and-bust industry that brings a whole lot of negative side effects,” said Amber Kleinman, Paonia town trustee. “We need long-term, smart economic development that will put our economic future in the hands of the community instead of the oil and gas companies.”
“The North Fork Valley community has again pulled together to request common-sense provisions that would minimize risks to important resources like clean air and water. We need to be sure that the BLM’s oil and gas program doesn’t throw other resource values under the bus,” said Jim Ramey, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community. “Farmers, ranchers, and business owners from the North Fork Valley join with groups and citizens from across Colorado calling on the BLM to do the right thing.”
“The BLM dismissed across the board the negative impacts that wildlife such as elk, mule deer, Canada lynx, and Colorado cutthroat trout would endure as a result of this proposal,” said Alli Melton, public lands director of High Country Conservation Advocates. “This is unacceptable given the importance of healthy, robust wildlife populations to our local communities and economy. The BLM is not only required, but owes it to our communities, to fix this failure and take a hard look at the impacts this proposal would have on wildlife.”
“Our public land managers need to restore the balance between promoting oil and gas drilling and protecting the resources that support the recreation-based economy,” said Alex Ewert, a life-long Gunnison County resident who grew up hunting and fishing in this area of the North Fork. “Hunting supports 297 jobs in Delta County and 615 jobs in Gunnison County, pumping a direct economic impact of $16.3 million in Delta and $31.2 million in Gunnison annually, according to the most recent data from 2007. A vibrant recreation, hunting and angling economy depends on clean air, clean water, and healthy wildlife and herds of big game animals. This resource is extremely delicate and irreplaceable, and deserves consideration at least equal to that of the energy development.”
“The BLM recognizes that this is an area of rolling foothills and brilliant seasonal colors, clean air and water, and farms and vineyards. But the BLM fails to fully analyze the myriad social costs of oil and gas development, which include agricultural changes, human health threats, and property damage,” said Laura King, attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center. “The BLM must take a hard look at the social costs of carbon before moving forward.”
“The Endocrine Disruption Exchange partnered with Citizens for a Healthy Community to collect baseline air quality data in the area. These data are included in the comments submitted to the BLM,” said Dr. Carol Kwiatkowski, executive director of TEDX, a Paonia-based non-profit that researches chemicals called endocrine disruptors that interfere with human development and function. “I look forward to presenting these data and what we learned at a community forum scheduled for this Saturday. Baseline air sampling data is an extremely valuable tool that can prevent future impacts of air pollution by promoting best practices, including regular air monitoring of industrial sites, and it can support remediation efforts when incidents occur.”
Citizens for a Healthy Community is hosting a half-day educational forum this Saturday, April 18, at 1:30 pm at Hothckiss High School (438 Bulldog St, Hotchkiss, CO 81419). In addition to the presentation from Dr. Kwiatkowski, other speakers include : Dr. Detlev Helmig, associate research professor at the University of Colorado; Wyoming rancher John Fenton; Garfield County resident Lisa Bracken; and Weld County resident Sara Barwinski.
Jim Ramey, Citizens for a Healthy Community, 970-765-7111
Alli Melton, High Country Conservation Advocates, 970-349-7104 ext. 2
Laura King, Western Environmental Law Center, 406-204-4852
To learn more about our North Fork Valley work, click here.
The Bull Mountain Master Development Plan (MDP) is a large-scale drilling proposal for the North Fork of the Gunnison River watershed that was submitted by Texas-based SG Interests. The MDP calls for 146 new gas wells, four new waste water disposal wells, and associated infrastructure in the Bull Mountain Unit—a nearly 20,000-acre area between Paonia Reservoir and McClure Pass, immediately adjacent to the Thompson Divide. This area is primarily private surface ownership with a majority of public minerals. The BLM has prepared a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to analyze the environmental impacts of the proposed drilling plan. The BLM will prepare a final EIS after considering public comments.
Western Colorado’s North Fork Valley, roughly defined as the area around the three small towns of Crawford, Hotchkiss, and Paonia, was recently named “Colorado’s Farm-to-Table Capital” by Colorado Life Magazine and declared a certified creative district by Gov. Hickenlooper. Farmers across the valley produce much of Colorado’s apple, cherry, and pear crops, and the state’s second largest grape and peach crops. The North Fork Valley is home to the highest concentration of organic farms in the state of Colorado and to the West Elks American Viticultural Area, a federally recognized wine growing region.