Drilling opponents call on BLM to deny Thompson unitization | AspenTimes.com

Drilling opponents call on BLM to deny Thompson unitization

John Colson
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE – A group opposed to gas drilling in the Thompson Divide area has submitted petitions to the federal government as part of an effort to keep drillers out of the backcountry area southwest of Carbondale.

The Community for Thompson Divide group, organized by Malcolm McMichael of Carbondale, this week submitted petitions containing 320 signatures to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and to U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton.

The group was the organizing force behind a rally in Carbondale on Oct. 8, which drew more than 300 people opposed to drilling in the Thompson Divide area.

The petition to the BLM, according to McMichael, asks the agency to deny a request by SG Interests of Houston, Texas, to unitize 32,000 acres of public lands known as the Lake Ridge area.

If a denial is not possible, the petition asks the agency “at least to submit it to a full public review.”

Another petition asks Bennet, Udall and Tipton, who all represent Colorado voters, to introduce legislation “to withdraw the Thompson Divide area from any further federal oil and gas leasing,” according to McMichael.

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The petitions are posted on the group’s Facebook page, and McMichael reported that he continues to seek signatures, hoping for 1,500 or more.

The unitization request is being handled by the BLM, which manages mineral rights underlying federal properties, including national forests.

Such requests historically have been handled administratively, with little or no public involvement. It’s a situation that McMichael and others hope to change.

Unitization, according to Jerry Strahan, BLM branch chief for fluid minerals, dates back to the 1920s. It was conceived to “prevent waste and damage to formations” where oil and gas are found.

Through unitization, multiple leases owned by one or more parties can be lumped together for what BLM and industry maintain is a less intrusive type of development than simply drilling on individual leases.

Proponents of unitization argue that it typically results in fewer wells drilled, fewer roads built and reduced truck traffic in the affected area than if the leases were developed individually.

Critics maintain that unitization makes it easier for industry to take its time developing oil and gas leases, without worrying about looming expiration dates on individual leases, and that it will lead to more drilling in the region.

“If approved, the request would effectively set the stage for development of a swath from Sunlight Mountain to Coal Basin,” McMichael said in a press release this week.

The unitization request covers 16 current leases held by SG Interests that are located in the heart of a larger, 225,000-acre region that opponents say deserves protection from mineral development.

Strahan said his office is reviewing the request but noted that there has been no timeline set for the review period.

jcolson@postindependent.com