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February 1, 2013
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Thompson Divide drilling plans take next step

ASPEN - The first two applications to drill new gas wells in Thompson Divide - one in Pitkin County and one in Garfield County - have been submitted to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

The local governments must rally quickly to respond. They have 20 days to file comments regarding an application within their borders with the state commission; Garfield County commissioners will hold a special work session at 9 a.m. Tuesday to discuss their response and Pitkin County commissioners have been invited to attend. In the coming weeks, Pitkin County officials will address the proposal within their jurisdiction, said Ellen Sassano, long-range planner for Pitkin County.

The topic has not yet been scheduled before Pitkin County commissioners, but Sassano has drafted a letter from the county seeking an additional 10 days to file comments, as allowed under the state commission's rules. It also asks that the state delay final action on SG Interests' well-permit application within Pitkin County until local officials can visit the site next summer, when it is free of snow.

Last week's permit filings with the state are likely to be followed by others, and Pitkin County has asked that the comment period for all future applications the state receives from SG in Pitkin County be extended to the full 30 days allowed.

"These proposed wells are located in the Thompson Divide, an area that has attracted enormous community interest," Sassano wrote in the letter. "We anticipate heavy public involvement in these drilling proposals."

The letter also asks the state commission to consult with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on all SG applications in Thompson Divide.

It notes that the proposed wells are in the vicinity of the Grand Hogback, which serves as a recharge zone for numerous aquifers. In addition, they are in the vicinity of popular wintertime recreation areas that could be adversely affected by traffic and other impacts and are adjacent to the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness, which could suffer visibility impacts associated with gas-well development, the letter contends.

The letter also urges consultation with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, as Thompson Divide is home to Colorado cutthroat trout, big game and other wildlife.

Texas-based SG Interests has indicated it may submit as many as nine applications to drill in Thompson Divide, according to Bureau of Land Management spokesman David Boyd. So far, the company has submitted six permit applications to the BLM - one for a well in Garfield County and five in Pitkin County, he said. Because all of the sites are on federal land, they also will be subject to federal review; the BLM reviews subsurface activities, and the U.S. Forest Service will assess surface impacts.

None of the applications has been deemed complete yet - a necessary step before the federal agencies launch an environmental assessment, Boyd said. Local review would come under the land-use codes of the two counties.

The proposed well site in Pitkin County is between North and Middle Thompson creeks, west of Highway 133, at an elevation of 9,727 feet. The Garfield County well is to the north, just over the Pitkin-Garfield line.

Both Thompson Divide well sites would be accessed from Glenwood Springs and Garfield County - using Midland Avenue, Four Mile Road, Garfield County Road 117 and Forest Road 300, according to operations plans submitted to the BLM. In Pitkin County, about 200 feet of an access road will require reconstruction.

The plan of operation for the Pitkin County site indicates that there is an abandoned gas well within a mile of the site and no water wells within a one-mile radius. Drilling and the "completion stage" will require at least 113 round trips with trucks to haul water and then carry an estimated 80 percent of it away for disposal. About 8,000 barrels of water (42 gallons per barrel) would be required at a minimum, the plan indicates.

The plan also addresses facility needs at the site, reclamation plans and other issues.

Pitkin County is asking that the state hold off on final action regarding the application until after the snow melts and site conditions can be examined.

"It is simply not feasible to meaningfully consult regarding roads, production facilities and well sites until the snow has melted and the area can be visited without causing resource damage," the county's letter states.

The 221,500-acre Thompson Divide area stretches from Sunlight Mountain Resort south to McClure Pass and from the Crystal River west to Divide Creek, taking in eight watersheds and parts of Pitkin, Garfield, Mesa, Delta and Gunnison counties. It has seen drilling activity for more than 65 years, including some in Pitkin County, but became the source of recent controversy when SG Interests announced plans to begin drilling there.

Conservation groups and local governments have pushed to prevent additional land in the Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale from being leased and want to see existing leases expire.

janet@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Feb 1, 2013 07:50AM Published Feb 1, 2013 01:59AM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.