Coal and Natural Gas
For over a decade HCCA has been defending Gunnison County public lands from proposals for coal mine expansion in pristine roadless areas and from natural gas development. Our work has drawn attention to the climate change effects as well as the surface impacts from mining across thousands acres of roadless, mid-elevation forest, and to the watershed and wildlife impacts associated with fracking and natural gas infrastructure.
Our efforts to protect the Upper North Fork Valley from irresponsible coal mining and natural gas drilling are achieving steady success, yet development proposals from both of these extractive industries continue to confront us. Since our 2014 landmark legal victory in federal court that invalidated a Colorado Roadless Rule loophole that permitted coal mining in the North Fork Roadless Area, we have continued our productive partnership with Earthjustice, The Sierra Club, and WildEarth Guardians to stop coal mine expansion in Gunnison County. But industry efforts to get around the court decision are multi-faceted, and we are facing increased pressure to eviscerate the Roadless Rule and allow coal lease modifications across the 20,000-acre North Fork Roadless Area.
Our work to prevent coal mine expansion is critical to maintaining the biological productivity of the mid-elevation, wildlife-rich North Fork Roadless Area. This area provides outstanding habitat for Canada lynx (a federally threatened species), elk, mule deer, and cutthroat trout, and is a community asset for hunting, hiking, and wildlife viewing. Industry is seeking to circumnavigate the roadless restrictions and modify coal leases to enable expansion, and HCCA is fighting back through legal and political channels and community organizing. Scarring a 20,000-acre roadless landscape with roads and drill pads to mine and burn 170 million tons of coal is not an acceptable use of public lands.
The Upper North Fork Valley remains in the crosshairs of another extractive industry: natural gas. Hundreds of gas wells are sought for the area just north of the proposed coal mine expansion. We have been successful in requiring the Forest Service and BLM to stop piecemeal analysis, but the agencies continue to discount negative impacts and fail to take necessary measures to reduce risks and impacts to clean air, clean water, and healthy wildlife. Despite the national downturn in natural gas prices, we anticipate that development proposals in the Upper North Fork Valley will remain a constant factor in the upcoming years.
The cumulative impacts of natural gas and coal on these interconnected public lands are a serious threat to big game populations and freshwater resources. The area proposed for development is directly upstream from Colorado’s bread basket of organic farms, orchards, and vineyards. Our engagement ensures that direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts to natural resources are properly analyzed and that negative impacts are avoided, minimized, and mitigated. We continue to work closely with the Western Environmental Law Center and Citizens for a Healthy Community to achieve these goals. HCCA’s continued involvement provides expert legal and technical analysis, as well as organizing capacity at the federal, state, and county levels.
Click the image above for a map showing the overlap between active gas wells (including approved permits) and sensitive wildlife habitat in the Upper North Fork. Thank you to spring 2017 GIS intern, Colten Yoast, for producing the map above.
Click on the map above for directions to the Sunset Trail Roadless Area in the North Fork of Gunnison County.