‘Don’t Frack the North Fork’
by Peter Shelton
Feb 16, 2012 | 2397 views | 1 1 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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<b>STREET THEATER</b> – Protesters from the North Fork Valley brandished signs calling for a moratorium on natural gas leasing in Delta County. Twenty-two parcels comprising 30,000 acres near the towns of Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford have been nominated for the Aug. 9 sale. (Photo by Peter Shelton)
Protesters Descend on Montrose BLM

MONTROSE – A newly formed group calling itself Citizens for a Healthy Community brought an estimated 150-200 demonstrators to the Bureau of Land Management Field Office in Montrose last Thursday (Feb. 9) to protest natural gas leases in the North Fork Valley.

Thursday was the final day for public comments as the BLM process moves toward the Aug. 9, 2012 quarterly oil-and-gas lease auction. The 22 parcels in question total approximately 30,000 acres, many of them immediately adjacent to the Delta County towns of Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford.

Protestors waved home-made signs along Highway 550, danced to a flash-mob performance, heard anti-drilling speakers including life-long ranchers and fruit growers, and sang along to “Gas Man,” a reggae-inflected anthem composed and performed by Paonia cherry orchardist and musician Mike Gwinn.

BLM Public Information Officer Shannon Borders had no official response to the high-spirited gathering except to say that “all comments would be incorporated into” the environmental assessment, which should be available next month.

Messages on placards included: “We Cannot Drink, Eat, or Breathe Money,” “Farming and Fracking Don’t Mix,” and “One Man’s Well is Another Man’s Disease.” One young boy carried a sign that read: “I Want to Grow Up Here. Don’t Make Me Move.”

The flash mob was organized by a group of North Fork mothers (“MAF Mothers Against Fracking”) who appeared out of the crowd and danced to George Clinton’s “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker).” In place of the chorus, “We want the funk,” the dancers sang, “Don’t Frack the Fork.”

Daniel Feldman of Citizens for a Healthy Community and its partner, the Western Environmental Law Center, spoke against “irresponsible oil-and-gas drilling in the Delta County area.” He noted that some of the nominated parcels are very near schools, and some include drinking water springs and irrigation ditches.

He brandished the group’s 50-page comment letter to the BLM, “with 70 exhibits attached” documenting health hazards associated with natural gas development in other Western Slope counties, including Garfield and La Plata. Thanks to an exemption crafted by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, he said, natural gas is not subject to regulation by either the Clean Air or the Clean Water acts. And without those protections, drilling in such close proximity to the North Fork communities would be irresponsible.

He said the group had collected 3,000 letters opposing the lease sale and would present a petition requesting a moratorium on any further leasing on the North Fork of the Gunnison. “There are 200,000 acres already leased in Delta County,” he said. “Why these acres, in such a vulnerable place?”

Paonia Town Trustee Lucien Pevec told the crowd, “We have learned a lot about how to do energy development safely.” Unfortunately, he said, “With whale oil, coal, steam power, and nuclear, we learned these lessons too late.”

The BLM says it does not reveal who nominates parcels for oil-and-gas leasing, because to do so before the auction would unfairly skew the bidding. Following a lease sale, the nominating parties can be named. No one in the North Fork knows who nominated these 30,000 acres for energy development.


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February 18, 2012
Peter, Thank you so much for your excellent coverage of this event. It is very important that everyone be aware of what is going on. My life was running along all peaceful and happy until one day in December I heard about this situation. I was literally in shock. Who in their right mind would lease out BLM land to Gas/Oil companies right up to our schools , towns and even more unbelievable on our water sheds?

I have gone from shock then depression and now have settled somewhere in the middle of anger and hope. Julie ( Resident in the North Fork )