BLM must let Thompson Divide gas leases expire
March 1, 2013
The Bureau of Land Management has a golden opportunity this month to show that it is something more than a conduit for companies that want to drill for oil and gas on lands it administers in western Colorado.
The BLM is contemplating a request from two oil and gas companies, SG Interests and Ursa Piceance LLC, to stop the clock on leases they hold in Thompson Divide, west of Carbondale. Many of the leases held by the company expire in May and July because of lack of activity for the past 10 years, the standard leasing period. SG Interests didn’t see fit to explore for natural gas in Thompson Divide during the first half of the lease’s life, when gas prices were high. Yet now, as prices are the lowest they have been for years, the company contends it is interested in drilling and has taken the preliminary steps to do so.
Ursa recently acquired its Thompson Divide leases from another company. Certainly it knew the risks it was taking acquiring leases that were nearing the 10-year expiration period.
It appears that both companies want to gamble that prices will rise enough to make it worthwhile to pursue drilling in Thompson Divide. In other words, they want the federal government to grant approval for their speculative ventures.
Pitkin County, Glenwood Springs and Carbondale asked the BLM in mid-February to take public comment on the requests for 30 days. The agency’s decision on what it calls lease “suspension” – which is really a lease extension – isn’t open to formal public comment, but the agency accepts comments just the same.
Comments have poured in. The conservation group Wilderness Workshop says more than 500 comments have been submitted via email urging the agency to let the leases expire. It’s shooting for 1,000 comments.
More than 300 people attended a meeting Wednesday night in Carbondale organized by the Pitkin County commissioners to collect opinions about the lease issue. Scores of speakers were unanimous in their desire to end the threat of drilling in Thompson Divide, to the overwhelming cheers of the rest of the crowd.
If that isn’t enough to convince the BLM, the agency should take inspiration from President Obama’s comments during the 2012 presidential campaign. He said oil-and-gas companies need to drill on lands they have leased or surrender them. “So if you want to drill on public lands, you use it or you lose it,” he said.
There are plenty of public lands available in the West to help the U.S. achieve energy independence. Other lands deserve to be preserved. The BLM must preserve Thompson Divide and allow the leases to expire.