Thompson drilling decision ‘months away’ | AspenTimes.com

Thompson drilling decision ‘months away’

John Colson
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Kelley Cox/Post IndependentThe gas drilling company SG Interests is seeking federal approval to unitize its gas leases in the Thompson Divide area outside of Carbondale, seen here in its fall splendor. Community activists, meanwhile, want to preserve the area for recreation, hunting, grazing and for its watershed.

CARBONDALE – Federal land managers believe they are still “months away” from deciding whether to change the classification of gas leases in the Thompson Divide area.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has been asked to form a federal unit of gas drilling leases, comprising roughly 32,000 acres of public lands in the Thompson Divide area southwest of Carbondale.

The “unitization” request, from the Texas gas drilling firm SG Interests, would lump together a reported total of 16 leases into one holding.

Extensions of time on the unit as a whole, allowing SG Interests more latitude in its drilling schedule, could then occur more easily than if the company continued to hold the leases individually, according to BLM officials.

A local organization, the Thompson Divide Coalition, is opposing the request, and BLM public affairs specialist David Boyd said a decision on the request is “months away.”

A call to SG Interests on Friday was not returned.

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The Thompson Divide area generally covers the headwaters of Thompson Creek, which flows into the Crystal River, and Divide Creek, which flows into the Colorado River near Silt.

In its entirety, according to maps available on the coalition’s website, Thompson Divide encompasses lands in a remote area where Garfield, Pitkin, Gunnison and Mesa county boundaries come together.

The unitization would “cut right through the middle of the Thompson Divide area,” said attorney Peter Hart of Wilderness Workshop, who is working on the issue with the coalition.

The coalition was founded in 2008 to protect the 221,500 acres of Thompson Divide from oil and gas development.

According to the coalition, 81 existing gas leases cover more then 100,000 acres of the region, all told, including a reported total of 16 leases in the unitization request held by SG Interests along a north-south line in the center of the Thompson Divide area.

Thompson Divide Coalition contends the area should be preserved for existing uses, including farming and ranching, recreation and wildlife habitat, and should be removed from consideration for oil and gas production.

The group also is concerned about the effects that gas drilling activities would have on water quality, maintaining that the streams and springs in the region provide drinking water for the town of Carbondale and subdivisions in the Crystal and Roaring Fork valleys.

Dorothea Farris of Carbondale, a coalition board member, said the organization continues to work with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., to craft legislation that the coalition hopes will bar future extensions on current gas leases in the Thompson Divide area.

Some of the leases are set to expire in 2012 or 2013, Farris said, and the coalition worries that unitization would prevent the expiration of those leases.

Farris acknowledged that coalition supporters worried that their cause would suffer when Tipton defeated former Congressman John Salazar in 2010, but she said Tipton’s office “has not closed the door to discussions” on the issue.

Farris also said she remains hopeful that the BLM will take its time with consideration of the unitization request.

“I’ve heard that they are being very cautious in their review,” she said. “I’ve heard they’re in no hurry to made a decision about this request.”

Attorney Hart criticized the BLM’s process for considering the unitization request, which he said “is not a transparent process.”

Rather than a public review with hearings to gather public input, Hart said, the review is administrative, meaning no one beyond BLM personnel gets to review SG Interests’ development plan.

“The agency should conduct thorough NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) analysis and release that analysis to the public for comment,” Hart wrote in an e-mail to the Post Independent.

jcolson@postindependent.com

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