BLM suspends Thompson Divide leases, could void them

In mixed news for opponents of drilling in the Thompson Divide area, the Bureau of Land Management granted a new lease on life for two companies’ oil and gas leases there, but also found what it called a defect related to the leases’ issuance that could lead to them being voided.

The BLM said today it has approved suspension requests from SG Interests and Ursa Resources for SG’s 18 leases and Ursa’s seven in the Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale in the White River National Forest.

The action stops the clock on the 10-year deadline that leaseholders have to start developing their leases and keep them active. The leases in question were issued in 2003. The suspensions also prevent any development activity while environmental analysis occurs and more public comment is provided.

Entities including the Thompson Divide Coalition had been urging the BLM to simply let the leases expire, as part of a larger effort to protect some 220,000 acres in the Thompson Divide area from oil and gas development.

The suspension requests were made partly to give the BLM more time to do environmental analysis of the companies’ development proposals. However, the agency said it also has identified the need to remedy the lack of an environmental analysis at the time of the leases’ issuance. The environmental analysis it is conducting now will determine whether the leases should be voided, modified or reaffirmed, the BLM said.

In 2009, the BLM withdrew three leases owned by Encana USA west of Redstone and refunded the company for lease bid and rental costs. That followed an Interior Board of Land Appeals decision that the BLM improperly failed to adopt a Forest Service pre-leasing environmental analysis or do one of its own.

The Thompson Divide Coalition also has sought to buy back leases, and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., has introduced legislation that would withdraw unleased federal acreage in the area from leasing, and retire existing leased acreage when companies agree to sell or donate leases.

The BLM has encouraged discussions between leaseholders and opponents of Thompson Divide leasing.

“These suspensions will … provide the community and the leaseholders an opportunity to continue their dialogue on the future of the leases in the Thompson Divide area,” Steve Bennett, manager of the Colorado River Valley Field Office, said in a news release.

Under today’s BLM decision, the lease suspensions run from Feb. 1, which was the date of the companies’ requests, until April 1, 2014.



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