Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 22, 2018

Contact:  Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson, Citizens for a Healthy Community, (970) 399-9700, andrew@chc4you.org
Lisa Niermann, North Fork Valley Community Rights Advocates, (970) 417-5201, info@nfvcra.org
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2414, tmckinnon@biologicaldiversity.org

Groups Demand Full Environmental Review as Colorado Fracking Exploration Starts Without Forest Service, County Approval

Planned Dynamite Explosions Threaten National Forest Roadless Areas, Endangered Trout

PAONIA, Colo.— Conservation groups today called for a halt to unauthorized fracking-exploration activities in Colorado’s North Fork Valley to protect public health, safety and the environment until federal officials complete a full environmental review and two counties approve the operation.

Elk hunters recently alerted conservation groups that survey crews had begun working on Gunnison Energy’s plans for dynamite-based seismic exploration across 28,000 acres of public land in Delta and Gunnison counties, north of Paonia. The surveys, which caused the elk hunters to leave the area, did not receive Forest Service or county approval.

“Our best window for an archery elk hunt was ruined when survey crews walked right onto our chosen hunting area,” said Chuck Raleigh. “It’s beautiful country and great wildlife habitat — one of our favorite places to hunt. Ruining it with fracking industrialization would be shortsighted and tragic. This land is public, and the Forest Service needs to get control of this situation.”

The U.S. Forest Service plans to categorically exclude Gunnison Energy’s seismic operations plan from detailed public and environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act. That’s despite the likelihood that dynamite explosions could trigger landslides in a historically unstable area and damage vital irrigation infrastructure and domestic water supplies. The project could also harm roadless forests, winter range for elk and deer, and threatened and endangered species like greenback cutthroat trout and Canada lynx.

“That the operator is trying to sneak this by the public without even informing the counties is a big problem,” said Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson, associate program director with Citizens for a Healthy Community. “It sets a dangerous precedent if they’re allowed to disregard regulations and ask for permission later.”

In comments submitted to the Forest Service on the massive seismic operations plan, conservation groups said the agency should prohibit any survey work pending completion of a full environmental and public review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Conservation groups have alerted Delta and Gunnison counties about Gunnison Energy’s survey work and urged them to participate in the Forest Service planning process. The groups also encourage the counties to require county-specific oil and gas permitting.

“Once again, our land stewardship agencies are attempting to exclude the public from our public lands,” said Lisa Niermann of North Fork Valley Community Rights Advocates. “We strongly encourage Delta and Gunnison County residents to contact their county commissioners and the Forest Service to demand that this project undergo the proper county permitting process.”

The Forest Service’s plan to skip public and environmental review comes only weeks after the Bureau of Land Management renewed oil and gas leasing efforts in the area under new Trump administration policies that curtail public and environmental review.

“Dynamite and endangered fish don’t mix,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “If Forest Service officials don’t understand the law, we’re happy to remind them. The Forest Service is a public agency managing public lands on the public’s behalf, and it’s time they started acting like it.”

New oil and gas development in the North Fork Valley faces stiff opposition from local residents and businesses concerned about the harm fracking industrialization and pollution will do to the climate, agriculture, property values and organic farm and winery tourism.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

www.biologicaldiversity.org

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