Downvalley residents urged to fight Thompson unitization | AspenTimes.com
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Downvalley residents urged to fight Thompson unitization

Heather McGregor
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Carbondale-based Thompson Divide Coalition called on Glenwood Springs and Four Mile residents Wednesday to get involved with efforts to keep gas drilling out of the Thompson Divide area.

In a community meeting Wednesday evening that drew about 80 residents, coalition leaders Judy Perry, Marj Perry and Jock Jacober advised residents to write letters and appeal to local governments to take a position on the pending gas development.

Tresi Houpt, a Four Mile resident, also offered advice from her perspective as a former Garfield County commissioner and former member of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

“If we are ever going to preserve these lands, we have to make sure this unitization does not go forward,” Houpt said.

She was referring to a request for unitization of 18 gas leases filed by SG Interests, a Houston-based gas development company that owns 16 of the 18 leases in what is called the Lake Ridge Unit. At present, the leases are due to expire in 2013.

The proposed unit stretches across 32,000 acres in a long north-south rectangle from the ridge just west of the Oak Meadows subdivision on Four Mile to the upper reaches of Coal Creek, west of Redstone.

Once leases are unitized, companies can take a regional and long-term approach to gas development. By developing one producing gas well somewhere in the unit, leases in the entire unit are secured for development any time in the future.

Leases that would normally expire if they hadn’t been developed within 10 years are extended indefinitely, giving companies the option to resume drilling anywhere in the unit when market conditions are favorable.

Unitization is typically a routine approval by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. But the Thompson Divide Coalition has raised strident objections and gained the ear of Colorado’s two U.S. senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet. The senators have called on the BLM to slow the process down and take public comment.

Boyd said the unitization request for the Lake Ridge Unit is still being reviewed at BLM’s state office.

“We have no estimate of when the decision will be made,” Boyd said Thursday. Letters from the public are welcome, but there is no formal comment period and thus, no guarantee that letter-writers have until any particular date to send comments.

Several residents raised questions about road impacts in Glenwood Springs if drilling were to start in the Thompson Divide area.

“Is there anything the local governments can do? Do they have to provide a transit plan?” asked Glenwood Springs City Councilman Leo McKinney.

Houpt said gas companies do have to confer with local governments on their transportation plans, but that would happen after unitization is approved. In the meantime, she said, federal officials give added weight to comments from local governments.

“This may not happen for another five years, but I don’t think even in 10 or 20 years that the city would want fracking trucks coming through,” said Jim Hawkins, owner of a bed and breakfast on Four Mile Road.

“We need a public commitment,” said Glenwood Springs businessman Sumner Schachter. “We need to take a stance that the cost is far greater than the benefit.”

Houpt cautioned residents to not focus their objections only on road and traffic impacts.

“Don’t think of this as a one-issue problem for Grand Avenue,” she said. Gas leases in the Lake Ridge Unit could also be reached by cutting a road into the area from upper Divide Creek, she noted.

“If you believe this is land that should be preserved, for quality of life or protecting the economy, then there are a million reasons to do that,” she said. “Don’t lean on the issue of traffic going through your community, because they will find another way.”

The BLM is also accepting public comments on its draft resource management plan for its much larger Colorado River Valley region in a formal comment period that now extends to Feb. 29.

Boyd said the region includes about 8,000 acres of BLM lands in the Thompson Divide area, which have not yet been leased for gas development. The options for those lands under the draft plan range from opening the area to gas leasing to closing it for leasing entirely.

However, the proposed Lake Ridge Unit leases are on national forest land. While BLM manages the underground minerals below forest lands, it does not manage the surface. So the BLM’s resource management plan wouldn’t govern the Lake Ridge Unit area or have any affect on the unitization request, Boyd said.

Judy Perry encouraged residents to comment on the BLM plan, with the message that no further gas leasing should be allowed.

hmcgregor@postindependent.com


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