Recent BLM Master Development Plan approves 146 natural gas wells in Bull Mountain
Submitted By Lisa Niermann
Concerned that their rural, agricultural valley will soon be transformed into a heavily industrialized zone, residents staged a protest at the BLM’s Uncompahgre Field Office last month. For three hours, the residents held signs, gave speeches, and chanted in a show of solidarity against the recent approval of fracking wells within crucial watersheds of the Colorado River.
Residents also presented an “edible comment” to field manager Greg Larson, associate district manager Dana Wilson, and public information officer Shannon Borders. The edible comment consisted of a bushel full of North Fork Valley produce and value-added items such as pastured meat, breads, jams, cheeses, fresh and preserved produce, eggs, pies and crackers, all donated from small organic farms and food producers in Paonia and Hotchkiss.
Despite receiving thousands of community comments in opposition, in October 2017 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Uncompahgre Field Office released the Record of Decision (ROD) for the Bull Mountain Unit Master Development Plan, providing direction for the development of approximately 19,670 acres of federal and private mineral estate near the town of Paonia, Colo.
The plan provides a framework for developing up to 146 natural gas wells, four waste water disposal wells and construction of approximately 14 miles of new associated access roads and 26 miles of unregulated pipelines for leases operated by SG Interests I, Ltd. (SGI). The decision also approved one federal application for permit to proceed with hydraulic fracture.
The Bull Mountain Unit primarily lies within the watershed that supplies water to the towns of Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford, and irrigates the many small, organic farms, ranches and wineries for which the North Fork Valley has become renowned. Residents are concerned about the possible contamination and depletion of crucial domestic and irrigation water sources, air pollution due to methane release from well sites, earthquakes caused by injection wells into historically unstable soils; impacts of hundreds of daily tanker and other truck trips on single lane, rural roads; impacts to wildlife; and health impacts from VOCs and endocrine-disrupting toxins used in the fracking process.
Two of the protestors, local residents Kurt and Evelyn Grimm, have already been directly impacted by energy development. They recently moved to the North Fork Valley to escape a fracking well 400 yards away from their former home in Silt, Colo. Evelyn has suffered negative health effects, and the Grimms saw their property values plummet as drilling moved in next door. Although they tried to be accommodating, they were especially frustrated dealing with an out-of-state company.
“You don’t have anyone you can contact if there’s an issue. We had a well blow up right next to our property, and I couldn’t reach anyone to come fix it. We had contaminated fluid shooting into the air for three full days before a crew was sent from Texas to cap the well. There was never any clean-up done after the event.”
Residents made clear that they believe the development approval process does not adequately take into consideration the environmental, economic and health impacts to front-line communities. They emphasized that state and federal laws unjustly favor industry over the rights of communities and the voices of those most impacted by hydraulic fracturing.