Pros and cons lobby Bennett on Thompson Divide drilling |

Pros and cons lobby Bennett on Thompson Divide drilling

Heather McGregor
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Opponents and backers of natural gas development in the Thompson Divide area offered their views in a roundtable meeting with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet Monday morning.

Bennet offered no solutions or opinions in the matter.

He noted that negotiations are under way between gas companies and the Thompson Divide Coalition, which has offered to buy out existing gas leases in Thompson Divide.

“It would not be fair for me to lean on that,” Bennet said.

But he said Thompson Divide and the North Fork Valley in Delta County are at the epicenter of the struggle to balance Colorado’s natural beauty with the need for more domestic energy production.

The hour-long meeting, called by Bennet and held at the Glenwood Springs Community Center, drew about 25 stakeholders, including gas industry representatives, local elected officials, members of Thompson Divide Coalition, and staff from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Local elected officials spoke against drilling in Thompson Divide and, in particular, the request by SG Interests to unitize 18 gas leases on 32,000 acres of public land. The Lake Ridge Units stretches from a ridge above the Oak Meadows subdivision, through Sunlight Mountain Resort and as far south as Coal Basin near Redstone.

Bennet and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall have already asked the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to slow down on its approval process for the unitization request to allow time for public comment. BLM is accepting comments, and has given no timetable for when it might issue a decision on the unitization.

“This is one of those things the community of Carbondale doesn’t want to see happen,” said Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot. “We have lived with the impacts of coal mining. At the time, the technology seemed fine, but we have paid the price with our environment.”

Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman tallied the existing benefits of Thompson Divide as a headwaters area with healthy forests and clean water that he maintained is valuable for livestock grazing, hunting and recreation.

“The long-term public benefits really outweigh the short-term benefits of oil and gas development,” Newman said.

Glenwood Springs City Councilmen Leo McKinney and Ted Edmonds also questioned the impacts to traffic in Glenwood Springs and to air and water quality in the broader region if gas development were to begin in Thompson Divide.

Unitization of the 18 leases in the Lake Ridge Unit and the subsequent drilling would be the first occurrence of 21st century gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Eric Sanford, operations and land manager for SG Interests, told Bennet the Lake Ridge unitization request has become politicized by local interests asking BLM to reject the unitization request.

“This isn’t about the Lake Ridge Unit, it’s about the politicization of the unitization process,” Sanford said. “Every unitization application on federal lands will become a political process. That changes oil and gas development in ways this group can’t perceive.”

Jeff Houpt, an Oak Meadows homeowner, noted that unitization does allow for more orderly development of a group of adjacent gas leases.

But approval of the Lake Ridge Unit, he said, “severely tips the scales for industry.”

He urged BLM to hold off on the unitization decision to give all parties negotiating a buyout of the leases an equal footing.

Reed Williams is president of Willsource Enterprise, a small oil and gas company with lease holdings in the Lake Ridge Unit. He argued against what he called “condemnation” of energy resources in Lake Ridge and the greater Thompson Divide area by withdrawing it from future gas leasing once existing leases expire.

“Can we talk about what those assets are worth? I have about $10 million invested, and I’ve been offered about $61,000 to wipe me out,” Williams said. “I don’t think so.”

A month ago, the Thompson Divide Coalition offered leaseholders in the greater Thompson Divide area a total of $2.5 million to buy out the existing leases, including $61,623 to Willsource for three leases, $817,000 to Antero Resources for seven leases and $577,838 to SG Interests for 22 leases.

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