Colorado vineyard country threatened by oil and gas drilling plans

Mountains and valleys in the Uncompahgre region of southwest Colorado are threatened by drilling.

Alan Levine, flickr.

The Bureau of Land Management is planning to open hundreds of thousands of acres in Colorado’s Uncompahgre region, which includes the fertile and scenic North Fork Valley, to oil and gas development.

Full of pastoral valleys, high mountain peaks and rugged canyons, the Uncompahgre region includes the idyllic vineyard and farm-rich lands of the North Fork Valley, nestled on the western side of the Rocky Mountains, between Grand Junction and Montrose.

Due to its unique microclimate, the scenic and fertile North Fork Valley is home to one of Colorado’s renowned vineyard areas and one of the largest concentrations of organic farming in the state, not to mention world-class hiking, biking and hunting.

Along with managing the 675,800 surface acres of public land, the plan also includes nearly one million acres of minerals beneath the surface. Unbelievably, 90 percent of these lands would be open for oil and gas development under the BLM's proposed plan. 

Putting energy development above all other uses is a pattern for the BLM. In June, The Wilderness Society released a report showing how a staggering 90 percent of public lands and minerals managed by the BLM are open to oil and gas leasing

Due to outdated policies, the BLM does not follow through on commitments to closing lands to energy development. Once these lands are leased, they cannot be managed for wildlife, recreation or land conservation—an injustice to both the landscapes and the American people who own them.

Hiking in some areas of the hills and rugged canyons could become off limits if the Uncompahgre area is drilled. Photo: Jim Ramey/TWS

Within the region lie popular hiking destinations of the Adobe Badlands and volcanic rock formation of Needle Rock Natural Area that could feel the effects of energy development, from construction, spills or pollution. Canyons, mesas and arroyos in the region providing habitat connectivity between the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area and pristine roadless lands in the Grand Mesa National Forest need to be preserved.  

Conserving Uncompahgre lands preserves habitat connectivity between Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area and other protected areas. Photo: Alan Levine, flickr.

This proposed BLM plan for the Uncompahgre region is unbalanced and unacceptable. Fortunately, the BLM is required to allow the public to weigh in on its land management plans through a “public comment period” where anyone can submit written comments.

The BLM's deadline for the Uncompahgre's comment period is Nov. 1. Until then, the public has a chance to speak out against opening up Colorado’s wildlands to drilling.

Low yields for oil, high costs for farms and wildlands

Opening hundreds of thousands of acres of public land in southwest Colorado to energy development is not only dangerous, it’s nonsensical. Much of the area has a low potential for oil and gas production; throughout much of the Uncompahgre region, drilling is predicted to yield little oil and gas while wreaking havoc on the environment. The industrial process that goes along with constructing oil and gas infrastructure could prove disastrous for the Uncompahgre region, and specifically the North Fork Valley. For those living in the valley and relying on agritourism, the construction, traffic, pollution and potential for spills from the oil and gas wells are very real threat.

“I can sell everything I can grow. I don’t know if that changes with drilling." local organic farmer Mark Waltermire to the Denver Post. 

Since 2010, local groups, such as the Western Slope Conservation Center, have been fighting against the threat of energy development in the North Fork Valley. These efforts show how local communities know that the region’s wild lands are too precious to drill and leasing needs to be stopped.

A more suitable plan for Colorado’s Uncompahgre region would close off regions that have low potential for oil and gas and better manage these wildlands for wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.

Image: Terror Creek Winery, North Fork Valley. Photo: Alan Levine, flickr.

The disturbance of construction, dust and potential pollution from oil and gas infrastructure and development in the Uncompahgre region could prove disastrous for these wildlands and organic farmers.