BLM extends life of Thompson Divide leases
More than 30,000 acres of oil and gas leases in the embattled Thompson Divide area southwest of Glenwood Springs have received yet another new lease on life from the Bureau of Land Management.
The agency has agreed to further suspend leases held by SG Interests and Ursa Resources Group II, after having previously suspended them for a year, through Tuesday.
The new, two-year suspensions continue to stop the clock on leases that otherwise could expire after 10 years due to lack of development. None would have expired for at least several months even if the new suspensions hadn’t been granted.
The BLM’s action covered 21,167 acres of SG leases, mostly in Pitkin County, and about 12,000 acres of Ursa leases, the majority of which are in Garfield County.
Entities including the Thompson Divide Coalition and Wilderness Workshop had opposed the lease suspensions, as they try to prevent drilling in about 220,000 acres referred to as the Thompson Divide. But the BLM said in letters to the companies that the suspensions are warranted in part due to the agency’s need to rectify its failure to do proper environmental review prior to issuing the leases. That process could lead to voiding, modifying or reaffirming the leases.
The agency disagreed with arguments that it was prohibited from suspending leases due to the pre-leasing deficiency.
“In fact, suspension is generally the initial and preferred first step in remedying a procedural fault in issuing … a lease and assuring the prevention of environmental harm,” it wrote to the companies.
Wilderness Workshop attorney Peter Hart questioned that rationale, saying the deficiency dates back to 1993 and the BLM has been on notice about it for at least a decade.
“It’s interesting that BLM is saying that now to suspend two operators’ leases (after they) didn’t develop them during their primary term,” he said.
The Western Energy Alliance and West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association industry groups praised the suspensions in a joint news release.
“The companies would like to develop natural gas from these leases, but BLM has prevented development for various bureaucratic reasons …” they said.
They cited delays in things such as deciding on whether to group leases into units subject to different development requirements to keep the leases active. These include Ursa’s proposed Wolf Springs Unit in Mesa County, which the industry groups say isn’t far from the Castle Springs Unit where Ursa plans to drill four wells later this year.