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Glenwood Springs urges denial of Thompson unitization

John Stroud
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Glenwood Springs City Council urges federal land managers to deny Houston-based SG Interests’ gas lease unitization request in the Thompson Divide area, in a letter approved at the Thursday council meeting.

The council was split on the wording, but ultimately voted 4-3 to forward the letter as written by Councilman Leo McKinney.

“I believe it is one of our responsibilities as elected officials to be the voice of the people in our community in places where they don’t have a voice,” McKinney said.

Issues affecting areas outside the city’s borders and involving higher levels of government, such as potential drilling in the Thompson Divide area, is one of those places, he said.

The letter is addressed to officials in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Colorado Office, and the U.S. Forest Service.

“On behalf of the citizens of Glenwood Springs, we respectfully ask you to deny SG Interests unitization for 32,000 acres in the Thompson Divide region,” the city’s letter states. “This pristine backcountry region is both ecologically and economically unsuitable for long-term natural gas exploration and development.”

The letter goes on to mention potential impacts on the environment and tourism, but mostly focuses on the city’s concerns about impacts from industry-related traffic in and around Glenwood Springs.

“With three of the four possible access points to the Thompson Divide region traveling straight through the city of Glenwood Springs, we have considerable concern for the impacts on our citizens, roads and bridges,” the letter states. “State Highway 82 is already a traffic malady for our city, our citizens and our businesses.”

Councilman Todd Leahy voted against the letter as drafted. He said he would be OK with a “statement of concern” about traffic impacts should drilling occur in the area.

But Leahy wasn’t comfortable urging outright denial of the unitization request without knowing what that means and what the options are.

“A few minor tweaks and I’d be on board with this,” Leahy said.

McKinney was joined by council members Stephen Bershenyi, Ted Edmonds and Dave Sturges in supporting the more strongly-worded letter.

Mayor Matt Steckler and Councilman Mike Gamba agreed with Leahy that the letter should be revised to be a more general statement of concern about the traffic impacts.

SG Interests has a proposal before the BLM’s Colorado office to unitize, or combine, 18 gas leases in a 32,000-acre area called the Lake Ridge Unit in the Thompson Divide area. The area stretches from just west of the Oak Meadows subdivision on Four Mile Road south to the Coal Creek area west of Redstone.

The leases are set to expire in 2013. But if unitization is granted, the leases can be developed over time as long as one producing well is developed somewhere in the unit.

Unitization is usually a routine approval by the BLM. But objections by the Thompson Divide Coalition, a group of Carbondale-area ranchers, environmentalists and backcountry recreationists, prompted the BLM to take public comment.

McKinney said the letter is not intended to support the positions of the Thompson Divide Coalition, which has asked federal land agencies to put a halt to any new gas leasing in the area. The group also recently made a $2.5 million offer to SG Interests and other existing lease holders to buy out their leases.

The city’s letter goes on to state: “While we recognize the importance the natural gas industry has in our current and future economies and we acknowledge the value unitization has for the industry, we also recognize the value in a cautious approach to resource exploration in environmentally pristine and sensitive expanses of wilderness.”

Councilman Mike Gamba said the city shouldn’t assume access to the gas wells would be in the Glenwood Springs or Carbondale areas.

“I was told by the [Garfield] county commissioners that they won’t allow traffic up Four Mile,” Gamba said. “The traffic issue is nonexistent, in my opinion.”

While the leases themselves are in the Four Mile, Thompson and Coal creek drainages, access to the area could also come from the Divide Creek side south of Silt, he noted.

“There have been gas wells up in Four Mile for decades, and no one even knows they’re there,” Gamba said. “I feel that if we say ‘no’ to this, we’re just taking a NIMBY [not in my backyard] approach. I personally cannot support that.”

jstroud@postindependent.com


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