Concerns with access, proximity to water, wildlife and tourists
The Gunnison County Commissioners, in a letter signed Tuesday, February 7, made a strong statement about a proposed Bureau of Land management lease sale set to put around 30,000 acres in the North Fork Valley up for auction in August.
The commissioners’ letter asks BLM Uncompahgre field manager Barb Sharrow to take her time in opening the land up for natural gas development. The land is adjacent to an area that has already seen substantially increased drilling in the last decade.
In their letter, the commissioners ask Sharrow to postpone the lease sale “until full and complete NEPA analysis has been initiated and completed … the Board believes the proposed sale to be premature, unsupported by necessary NEPA analysis and documentation, lacking critical foundational information and containing locations in Gunnison County which may be inappropriate.”
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the letter reminds Sharrow, “prescribes the necessary process by which federal agencies must take a hard look at the environmental consequences of the proposed course of action.”
And the proposed North Fork leases haven’t gotten anywhere close to NEPA. In fact, the BLM hasn’t reconsidered whether or not the area is appropriate for oil and gas development in 25 years.
Not only is the federal Resource Management Plan (RMP) for that area “significantly outdated,” the commissioners tell Sharrow the RMP doesn’t address the specific sites proposed for sale in August, doesn’t consider any alternative to leasing and isn’t “based on information currently available.”
The BOCC also points out a BLM correspondence in December that acknowledged a need for further analysis before the leases should go for sale.
Regarding areas of the proposed lease that lie inside Gunnison County, the commissioners said they were concerned that “all of the proposed lease sale parcels … involve a slope profile greater than 40 percent” and could be prone to unstable geology.
The commissioners are concerned about the proximity of the proposed leases inside Gunnison County to water bodies, saying there was some sort of water within a mile of every Gunnison County parcel being offered in the sale. Paonia Reservoir, the letter reports, is bisected by one lease and sits within a quarter mile of three others.
In the letter signed by Hap Channell and Paula Swenson (Phil Chamberland was absent), the commissioners said there hasn’t been enough analysis of the effects such development will have on tourism, agriculture, wildlife and the viewsheds along the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway.
The commissioners wrote, “There is not a current analysis of access to the parcels with roads that would accommodate commercial vehicles and emergency service vehicles.” Road and bridge concerns are often an area where the county has influence over industrial activities, even when they’ve been permitted by the federal government.
Specifically, the commissioners ask the BLM for a closer analysis of the effects that could come from nine of the proposed parcels.
“The Board does understand that it is the intent of the Bureau to conduct a NEPA ‘Environmental Assessment’ of these sites before a lease sale is concluded,” the letter says. Th board’s concern is that the process to start the leasing will be initiated before the necessary analysis is done and, because of the size of the proposed lease area, a more exhaustive Environmental Impact Statement might be needed, as opposed to an Environmental Assessment.
With so many unaddressed concerns, the commissioners asked the BLM to hold off on the sale “unless and until the appropriate NEPA analysis is initiated and, more important, completed.”
The BLM is accepting comments on the proposed lease sale through February 9.