Carbondale to BLM: Let Thompson Divide leases expire

John Colson
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Aspen, CO, Colorado

CARBONDALE – Carbondale has joined other governments and organizations beseeching the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to stand aside and allow oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide to expire.

In a letter sent March 19 to Neil Kornze, acting director of the BLM, the town Board of Trustees reinforced arguments by various environmental organizations and local governments trying to keep gas-drilling rigs out of the Thompson Divide area.

Industry representatives maintain that they have the right to drill on leases they legally hold and that they are following rules set down by the federal government for the purpose of extracting needed reserves of oil and gas from the ground.

The letter from Carbondale’s board states, “The Thompson Divide region provides a rich resource for pristine water, clean air and a sustainable wildlife habitat.”

The area “supplies domestic and agricultural water to a large number of constituencies throughout the region,” the letter continues. “It also affords the area with significant agriculture/ranching and grazing, outdoor tourism and recreation including hunting, fishing and camping, hiking, biking, climbing skiing and snowmobiling. The region is home to vital expanses of undisturbed land that help maintain and preserve native wildlife and vegetation.”

“We recognize the importance the natural gas industry has in our current and future economies,” the letter conceded, but it recommended a “cautious approach” to drilling in the area.

The Thompson Divide area covers 221,500 acres of mostly federal land in Pitkin, Garfield, Gunnison, Mesa and Delta counties. There are 61 current leases in the area covering approximately 105,000 acres.

It has seen a small level of gas-drilling activity in the past, and the leases now being debated were auctioned to private drilling companies a decade ago as new drilling techniques promised to open up previously inaccessible gas reserves, such as those in the Thompson Divide.

The leases are due to expire in May and July, and two lease-holders – SG Interests, of Texas, and Ursa Piceance LLC, of Denver – have asked the BLM to “suspend” the leases, essentially putting the expiration dates on hold while the companies apply for drilling permits.

But the Carbondale letter states, “Suspending the leases (held) by SG Interests and Ursa Piceance in this unique region is not in the overall best interest of the community, which would be better served if these are left to expire.”

Carbondale’s letter, signed by Mayor Stacey Bernot, also was sent to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado; Helen Hankins, Colorado chief for the BLM; Steve Bennett, manager of the Colorado River Field Office near Silt; Mike King, director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources; and Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest.

A similar letter has been sent by the Pitkin County government, and earlier this week a group of area students presented more than 1,000 letters to the BLM urging that the leases be allowed to expire.

Glenwood Springs City Council was scheduled to consider sending its own letter to the BLM at the council’s regular meeting on Thursday.