BLM releases draft assessment approving North Fork gas leases

Lease sale August 9

The Bureau of Land Management’s Uncompahgre Field Office delivered its Draft Environmental Assessment (EA), along with a Draft Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), for 21 of the 22 parcels being proposed for oil and gas development in the North Fork Valley.



The BLM’s state director Helen Hankins is expected to make a final decision on whether the parcels of land, totaling almost 30,000 acres, near the towns of Paonia, Hotchkiss, Somerset and Crawford will be sold at an August oil and gas lease sale, but BLM’s public affairs specialist Shannon Borders says that decision could take place at any point up until the sale August 9.
According to the Draft EA, the Uncompahgre Field Office (UFO) based its decision to support leasing the 21 parcels, themselves comprised of almost 25,000 acres, for exploration and development this summer after an “ID Team” of BLM resource specialists looked at records, maps and the actual sites to determine if they are appropriate for development.
Unlike the majority of existing development in the area, which has happened on private land, this round of proposed leases covers about 28,950 acres of public land and not quite 860 privately owned acres. The parcels range in size, from 80 acres to almost 2,500 acres and nearly surround parts of several towns and their respective sources of drinking water.
The North Fork is also known as one of Colorado’s major agricultural centers, supplying more than half the state’s apple, cherry and pear crop, along with a quarter of its peaches and grapes. Here in the Gunnison Valley, those percentages are likely much higher through the summer months.
The proposal went into the public review process December 7, 2011 and ultimately had to delay closing the public comment period until February 9 after the flood of public comment convinced the UFO people needed more time. When the tally was in, the UFO had received 2,982 comments related to the proposal from 17 government agencies, more than 2,900 individuals and 61 organizations.
High Country Citizens’ Alliance public lands director Matt Reed, who had a chance to sift through the pile of comments said the majority were from people living in or near the North Fork Valley, or those who have vested interests in the Valley, and are concerned that gas development in such rugged and isolated country won’t be possible without real risks.
The BLM’s ID Team, which had the task of deciding whether the land is appropriate for gas development, acknowledged a long list of those concerns, including impacts to wildlife, recreation, water and air quality, and excessive noise associated with the development, as well as many of the potential impacts to the nearby agricultural community. And the farmers of the North Fork aren’t the typical agriculturalists; they deal in a lot of organic produce, wines, agri-tourism and other areas beyond what might be typical business in a farming community.
Still, the BLM proposed opening 21 of the parcels, covering almost 25,000 acres, for leasing. HCCA’s Matt Reed says the BLM has already drafted several alternatives for the proposed gas leases, the process is still open to the public and urges people to express concerns with the proposal.
Public comments on the proposed lease sale can still be directed to the UFO at or mailed to BLM Uncompahgre Field Office, ATTN:  Oil and Gas Lease EA, 2465 S. Townsend Ave, Montrose, Colorado  81401. Comments need to be received by April 6.

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