PAONIA, Colorado - Many residents of the North Fork Valley, located on the other side of McClure Pass from Marble, were celebrating on Wednesday, while oil and gas interests frowned.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Wednesday announced it would pull 20 controversial parcels of public land in the North Fork Valley from a Valentine's Day oil and gas lease sale.
"On behalf of North Fork Valley farmers, ranchers and residents, we would like to thank the BLM for making the right decision! We applaud the agency for slowing down and taking a closer look at the severe impacts of drilling on the vibrant local economy of this rural community," said Jim Ramey, director of Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC) in Hotchkiss, in a prepared statement.
The statement quoted Landon Deane, owner of the Eagle Butte Ranch near Paonia, as saying, "Drilling in the North Fork Valley would destroy our sustainable local economy. The BLM's decision today will help protect our ranching, farming, vineyard and tourism jobs."
The CHC, in conjunction with the Western Environmental Law Center office in New Mexico, led the effort to convince the BLM to refrain from basing leasing decisions on a 20-year-old management plan.
New resource management plans for public lands on the Western Slope are in the works.
The view from the industry, however, was less ebullient than that of the North Fork residents.
David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, accused the BLM of "reinforcing 'not-in-my-back-yard' thinking" with this decision, in a letter to Barbara Sharrow, Uncompahgre Field Office manager for the agency.
He argued that the decision "threatens social justice and economic prosperity," by inhibiting energy production even as the U.S. remains the nation that consumes the lion's share of the world's energy resources.
"If material production is only allowed to occur in unseen places, the impacts of our consumption are unfairly and immorally placed on those countries and regions around the world where the rule of law and environmental standards we all value ... are nonexistent," Ludlam continued.
In the Roaring Fork Valley, activists hoping to stop gas drilling in the Thompson Divide area were buoyed by the hope that a similar decision by the BLM is possible here.
"This decision is consistent with [the BLM's] reform efforts to ensure that energy development takes place only in appropriate areas," said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop, which has been fighting to keep drilling rigs out of Thompson Divide.
"We think the Thompson Divide area is absolutely one of those places that are not appropriate for energy development," he concluded.
"We were ecstatic to hear of BLM's decision in the North Fork Valley," agreed Zane Kessler, executive director of the Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC), which has been working to keep rigs out of Thompson Divide for four years.
"Our community-based coalition will continue to send the clear message that drilling-at-all-costs is not a responsible policy," Kessler pledged.
The BLM decision will "defer" the sale of 20 parcels, equal to more than 20,000 acres, in a Feb. 14 lease sale to energy companies, according to an announcement on Wednesday.
"We've listened to concerns raised in numerous comments and public meetings and we are responding by deferring the North Fork Valley parcels at this time," said Helen Hankins, the BLM's Colorado state director.
The agency will move ahead with the sale of 151 parcels, a total of more than 88,000 acres, to oil and gas development companies, and will continue to gather input regarding the possible future sale of the 20 deferred parcels.
The Feb. 14 sale is to take place at 9 a.m. at the BLM Colorado State Office, 2850 Youngfield St. in Lakewood, a suburb of Denver.