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Gas leases were illegal

Dear Editor:

I write in response to a letter from Gary Osier, formerly an officer of the White River National Forest, respecting the legality of oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide (“Calling out the county,” Feb. 19, The Aspen Times).

Osier’s letter expresses his view that Pitkin County is mistaken when it describes the Thompson Divide leases as illegal. We stand by that description for the following reasons:

The basis for our statement is a legal decision issued by the United States Department of Interior in 2007. That decision, titled “Board of Commissioners of Pitkin County” can be found among the opinions of the Interior Board of Land Appeals at 173 Interior Board of Land Appeals 173 (2007). The decision states, at 173 Interior Board of Land Appeals 184, that leases in the Thompson Divide were issued in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act because, “As candidly acknowledged by BLM and demonstrated by the record, BLM conducted no environmental analysis and prepared no environmental document of its own” before issuing the leases. In response to this Interior Board of Land Appeals decision, the Bureau of Land Management canceled the leases involved in the Interior Board of Land Appeals case. Most of the remaining leases in the Thompson Divide were issued in precisely the same way and are therefore illegal for precisely the same reason.

Most of the leases in the Thompson Divide threaten to introduce oil and gas development into inventoried roadless areas. Osier suggests that issuing such leases did not violate the Forest Service’s Roadless Area Conservation Rule – which was in effect at the time – because that rule was enjoined by a court when the leases were issued. But Osier is mistaken on the facts, because the injunction Osier references was already dissolved when the BLM issued most of the leases. The U.S. Court of Appeals has now conclusively held that the Roadless Rule was valid.

Prior to Osier’s letter, Pitkin County had no knowledge of Osier’s personal role in the leasing process. The county has never accused him or anyone else of any personal misconduct or illegal activity. But the fact remains that, as confirmed by the Interior Department, the Bush administration’s approach to oil and gas leasing in the Thompson Divide violated federal law. Consequently, the county stands by its statements that these are illegal leases, and that the BLM should let them expire.

We urge interested members of the public to join us for a public meeting to learn more about this important issue, and how the public can make its voice heard, at 6 p.m. Feb. 27 at Carbondale Town Hall.

George Newman

Chairman, Pitkin County commissioners


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