Pace calls for delay of proposed oil, gas leases in Colorado’s North Fork Valley

Drilling opponents in Colorado’s North Fork Valley have an ally in Sal Pace.

The North Fork Valley. (Photo via Big B's Apple Juice)

The Democratic state representative who is running for U.S. Congress met with concerned citizens in Hotchkiss last week to discuss the Bureau of Land Management’s proposal to lease 22 parcels in the North Fork Valley for oil and gas development. Pace penned a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking him to delay the planned auction until an updated resource management plan has been drafted and released to the BLM.

“This isn’t about being for or against drilling. Simply put, decisions of this magnitude must be made with the most current information,” Pace said. “The North Fork Valley and the surrounding public lands are a pristine area and have changed since 1989. Using outmoded information when considering the proposed auction fails to recognize the existing land use in the North Fork and endangers the quality of life of its residents.”

While oil and gas exploration proliferates across the state so have the complaints about its potential impacts to air and water. Last year, there were reportedly 516 oil and gas spills but the agency charged with regulating the industry, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, only assessed five fines, according to a new study.

Pace, 35, is challenging incumbent Scott Tipton in the 3rd Congressional District which, according to the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report, is only one of 11 races nationally listed as “a toss-up” in the 2012 election. Tipton’s campaign is funded in part by oil and gas interests.

Here is Pace’s letter:

Dear Secretary Ken Salazar,

I am writing to request that the planned oil and gas lease auction be delayed in Colorado’s North Fork Valley until an updated resource management plan (RMP) is drafted and released. This is also the official position of both the Delta County Board of County Commissioners and the Gunnison County Board of Commissioners, the two local entities facing the greatest impact.

A decision of this magnitude should take in account input of the local governing bodies.

The current Bureau of Land Management RMP was drafted in 1989 and provides an inadequate description of the resources that exist in the Valley today. As such, the current environmental assessment does not address many concerns of the local population, nor does it adequately address the full spectrum of potential impacts that drilling poses to the Valley.

I respectfully request a delay in the lease auction until a new resource management plan can be formulated. The community deserves a current plan that can accurately assess the economic and environmental impacts of increased oil and gas development.

Thank you for your help in this matter. Feel free to contact my office with your questions and concerns.

Troy Hooper covers environmental policy for the American Independent News Network. His work has been published in The Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, Huffington Post, San Francisco Weekly, Playboy, New York Post, People and dozens of other publications. Hooper has covered the Winter Olympics in Italy, an extreme ski camp in South America and gone behind the scenes with Hunter S. Thompson on election night in 2004. Born and raised in Boulder, Hooper has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara.