January 2012 - Oil & Gas in Colorado's Organic Farm Country

Jan 15, 2012
Day 358 of the year 2011 and Starship 1XE is headed over the hills to the town of Paonia, Colorado. It is one of those picture perfect days. Calm winds, blue skies, 50 degrees out. Did I say 50 degrees? Yes, unfortunately Colorado is in a record drought with only 55% of snowpack and the skiers, snowplowers and resort employees are suffering.

But it is a great day for flying. Our mission today takes us to the North Fork Valley which is one of the most pristine areas in our region. Bordered by Grand Mesa National Forest, the West Elk Wilderness and Gunnison National Forest, the area is home to organic farms, orchards, vineyards and ranches and excellent hiking and fishing. The North Fork Valley was recently described as "an American Provence" by the author Thomas Huber.

There are a number of coal mines in the area and a growing presence of oil and gas activity. When we stop for lunch there are notices posted around the town about public meetings to be held to discuss another 30,000 acres that have been nominated for oil and gas leasing in the Paonia, Somerset, Hotchkiss and Crawford areas. Some of these 22 lease parcels would be in vital watersheds and in viable agricultural areas.

These small towns would be significantly impacted by the resource extraction, and the livelihood of farmers and ranchers producing organic or chemical-free food would be in jeopardy if any amount of chemicals were to contaminate their irrigation water.

We have done a number of flights in the area with national photographers, members of the community and sportsmen and we are pleased that the local citizens are mobilizing rapidly to address the communities' desires and needs. They are urging the BLM to recognize the unique characteristics of the North Fork Valley and place a moratorium on leasing in and around it at least until the BLM completes a full Resource Management Plan for the region.

The deadline for public comment has been extended to February 9th, 2012.