BLM pulls all leases from oil and gas lease sale in the North Fork

Leases deferred, but advocates still concerned with seismic testing

By Cayla Vidmar

Earlier this year, Gunnison Energy nominated multiple parcels of land located in Gunnison County, near the food-producing towns of Paonia and Hotchkiss, to be used for natural gas extraction.

Last week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) deferred all the nominated parcels for the December lease sale. Although the parcels have been deferred for oil and gas leasing, the application made by Gunnison Energy for seismic testing in the same area is moving forward, and comments are being accepted on a new parcel nomination until Thursday, November 15.

The announcement of the possible lease sales spurred wide resistance from local advocacy groups, including the High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA), and from Governor John Hickenlooper and Senator Michael Bennet. The Gunnison County Board of County Commissioners also submitted comments protesting the lease sale, citing numerous shortcomings of the BLM. “My hope is, in light of deferral of leases, that when the next pieces come through, our comments will have some impact on how they draw up the lease sale,” said county commissioner Jonathan Houck.

HCCA public lands director Matt Reed stated his appreciation of Hickenlooper and Bennet and for the strong stand taken by Gunnison County and many area citizens, saying, “We’re also thankful to Gunnison County and to everyone locally who cares about the lands, waters and wildlife in the North Fork Valley who took action to make this deferral happen.”

Lead public affairs specialist for the BLM, Jayson Barangan commented on the deferral, saying “BLM Colorado is deferring parcels that contain big game habitat in cooperation with a request from the State of Colorado to delay leasing to allow consideration of further habitat protection.” He also noted that the State of Colorado has also requested leasing in the North Fork Valley be delayed until the Uncompahgre Resource Management Plan is completed.

Reed also spoke to his concern about the seismic testing proposal made by Gunnison Energy on 28,000 acres of public land north of Paonia. In comments drafted by HCCA, seismic testing is described as an intense project, which includes using dynamite, helicopters, and large machinery.

The comments made by HCCA cite the inappropriateness of the project being located in an area with threatened or endangered animals, sensitive and vital water infrastructure, presence of archeological sites, and more.

Comments may be submitted on the new addition to the seismic testing project—Iron Point—to the Gunnison County by emailing them into For additional information, you may call 970-641-0360.

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