Wednesday, South Park and the North Fork Valley residents and business owners turned out to protest BLM’s controversial ‘lease first, plan later’ approach to oil and gas drilling at the Colorado BLM Resource Advisory Council (RAC) meetings. The public’s testimony focused on the need for BLM to finish critical planning and studies before they lease lands, in order to protect water supplies, local economies and wildlife.

Colorado Wildlife Federation Executive Director, Suzanne O’Neil, called on Colorado BLM to create a Master Leasing Plan (MLP) before any lease permitting moves forward in South Park.

“…The MLP process equips the BLM and the community and other stakeholders to take a careful look at potential conflicts between oil and gas development and drinking water, gold medal fisheries, wildlife, archeological treasures…[and] will provide certainty for industry by identifying the lands for leasing which have the least amount of conflict. To lease parcels in the interim simply would undercut the ability to apply the MLP tools effectively.”

Representatives from Great Old Broads for Wilderness told Colorado BLM that it’s ‘unacceptable to proceed with business as usual’ on oil & gas leases – calling for a Master Leasing Plan first. They also called on the BLM to protect South Park water, which supplies water for Denver Metro residents.

Clean Water Action Colorado delivered 2,000 comments from South Park residents calling for BLM to complete a Master Leasing Plan in South Park immediately to protect Denver Metro water.

A Lafayette resident told the BLM “[you should be] ashamed of yourselves” for not taking a more robust stance against fracking. Later one of the Colorado BLM RAC members noted that Governor Hickenlooper might drink fracking fluids, but that he didn’t want to.

A representative from Be the Change, Phil Doe, called out the Colorado BLM for failing to complete a single study on the impacts of fracking on water quality, air quality or wildlife before moving forward with leasing plans in areas where fracking would likely occur- including South Park.

The Colorado BLM deferred parcels in South Park in response to outcry from county commissioners, water experts, residents and sportsmen. The deferred South Park leases were located next to three major water reservoirs that supply the Denver Metro area with drinking water.

Doe also chided the Colorado BLM for rushing leases without proper data and planning, when just 30% of land leased by BLM in the state is actually under production.

Residents from the North Fork Valley took the opportunity to call on Colorado BLM to halt lease decisions until critical planning has been finished. Sarah Souter from the Western Slope Conservation Center delivered 11,586 comments to BLM asking that they plan first and then lease.

Souter called the deferrals a good step but ‘only temporary’. She also called on the Colorado BLM to engage in a meaningful conversation with local residents and business in order to come up with a balanced approach. Presumably her comments were related to Colorado BLM Director Helen Hankins’ previous refusal to meet with local groups or to take questions from residents at public meetings about the oil and gas leasing proposals.

The Colorado BLM meetings continue through the week, though both Senator Udall and Governor Hickenlooper have cancelled their scheduled appearances – leaving us wondering if BLM’s controversial drilling proposals are just too hot to handle these days.