Industry strikes back over Thompson Divide intercession | AspenTimes.com

Industry strikes back over Thompson Divide intercession

John Colson
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE – Colorado’s oil and gas industry is resisting efforts by the state’s two U.S. senators to intercede in a unitization request for gas leases in the Thompson Divide area near Carbondale.

In a letter sent Monday to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, industry trade groups have argued against the move by Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats of Colorado.

The senators’ effort, the industry’s letter stated, is “not in accord with the law” and “would politicize a technical and administrative determination,” typically made by officials in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

“We want to create a better understanding with the senators’ offices of the unitization process,” said David Ludlam, executive director of the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Bennet and Udall, in an Oct. 13 letter to Salazar and Vilsack, asked that federal land managers hold off on any decisions regarding the request by SG Interests to unitize about 32,000 acres of federal land in area known as Lake Ridge, a section of the Thompson Divide area.

If granted, unitization would lump some 31 leases together into one federal unit for exploration and production, and would make it easier for the company to win extensions in its drilling permits in case obstacles are encountered, according to federal officials.

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The two senators asked that the BLM open up the unitization review process to public hearings and discussions. The gas leases in this instance were issued by the U.S. Forest Service, but the BLM is in charge of the unitization decision under federal regulations.

Drilling in the Thompson Divide area is being opposed by the Thompson Divide Coalition, based in Carbondale, which contends that drilling would wipe out existing uses of public lands by ranchers and recreationalists, harm wildlife and pollute the watershed.

But such concerns are not relevant to the unitization request, according to the industry letter, which is signed by representatives of the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the Western Energy Alliance, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the Colorado Petroleum Association.

“The formation of a federal unit is integral to the diligent and proper development of federal oil and gas resources,” states the letter. “It is not an opportunity to reconsider the decision to lease.”

Specifically, the letter maintains, a unitization request is reviewed by the BLM based strictly on an “analysis of geological and geophysical data.”

The industry letter referred to the Lake Ridge unit as part of a general “technological success story,” in which recent advances in drilling technology are enabling drilling companies to get to petroleum resources previously considered inaccessible.

Those technical advances include hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in which massive quantities of water, sand and chemicals are injected, under high pressure, deep underground to break up rock layers and free up gas and oil to flow to the surface.

Concern about the effects of fracking on groundwater and air quality have prompted widespread efforts to curb the practice until more is known, including an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Industry sources point to some 60 years of fracking experience, without any proven incidents of water or air pollution, as evidence that the procedure is safe.

jcolson@postindependent.com