3 Thompson Divide leases in limbo

An Interior Department appeals board will consider whether the Bureau of Land Management correctly determined that three Mesa County oil and gas leases in what’s known as the Thompson Divide area had expired.

WillSource Enterprise LLC of Denver has taken the matter of leases totaling 2,743 acres to the Interior Board of Land Appeals. WillSource President Reed Williams indicated Thursday that it’s possible he’d pursue an appeal in federal court if he’s not satisfied with the outcome of the administrative appeal.

The Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop conservation group and the Natural Resources Defense Council are seeking to intervene in the Interior board appeal and argue in support of the BLM determination that the leases have expired.

The leases at issue are on the western edge of an area of more than 220,000 acres that the Wilderness Workshop, defense council and other groups including the Thompson Divide Coalition are trying to protect from development.

Leases typically last 10 years if not drilled on unless the owner receives an extension from the BLM.

Companies also can seek to have leases grouped into federal units, where drilling of one unit well every six months can be enough to keep all the leases active.

The WillSource appeal involves a BLM decision that a unit had contracted from seven leases to three, and that three of the eliminated WillSource leases had later expired.

“We believe we’re in the right and we believe we’re the entity that’s been greatly damaged by all of this,” Williams said.

The conservation groups note that only one well ever was drilled in the unit, and that WillSource had received five one-year extensions before the Wilderness Workshop persuaded the BLM to grant no more.

“This is one of those situations where there hasn’t been diligent development and the leases should not be extended,” said Wilderness Workshop staff attorney Peter Hart.

In its appeal, WillSource contends it was dealing with problems ranging from bad weather and a limited operating season to a lack of pipeline access to “unreasonable requests” by the U.S. Forest Service regarding improvement and maintenance of a forest road.

Hart said the three leases significantly overlap inventoried roadless areas but were issued prior to any roadless-area protections having been put in place nationally or in Colorado.

“One of our biggest concerns is about basically protecting those roadless areas,” he said.


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