BLM hears calls to cancel forest leases

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — The Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday heard widespread calls to cancel dozens of oil and gas leases on the White River National Forest.

The BLM is considering just that option in a new environmental review process that it launched at the start of the month. The process applies to 65 leases mostly stretching from De Beque to Redstone. These include some leases in what’s called the 220,000-acre Thompson Divide area southwest of Glenwood Springs, which environmentalists, ranchers, local communities and others in the Roaring Fork Valley have been trying to protect from drilling.

The BLM is conducting the unusual review because it failed to adopt existing Forest Service environmental analysis, or do its own, prior to issuing leases covering more than 80,000 acres. It is considering voiding or modifying the leases, or leaving the lease terms unchanged.

Some 130 or more people turned out Tuesday evening for the chance to comment on the new environmental review. Further public meetings will be held from 4-6 p.m. today at the Carbondale Town Hall and from 3-5 p.m. Thursday at the Pitkin County Library in Aspen.

The BLM also has added a fourth meeting from 4 to 7 p.m. May 1 at the De Beque Community Center. That comes after David Ludlam of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association asked the BLM why all the meetings were being held in communities he considers hostile to oil and gas development, and all on the eastern edge of the leases, while making it hard for oil and gas supporters in De Beque and surrounding communities to voice that support.

In Glenwood Springs, speaker after speaker Tuesday voiced concerns about traffic, health, watershed and other impacts from oil and gas development. Jim Hawkins said the drilling only will benefit the economy in Houston, where oil and gas companies are located.

“There’s nothing good that’s going to come from this that’s going to help our economy,” he said.

Sumner Schachter said he doesn’t think industry can mitigate its impacts.

“This is an extractive industry and it’s going to extract and probably detract instead of enhance,” he said.

Don Simpson, with Ursa Resources, which owns some of the Thompson Divide leases being reviewed, applauded the BLM for the new environmental impact statement it is preparing, saying it can account for changes in technology such as horizontal wells that reach farther to get more gas out of the ground.

“I think oil and gas (development), when done properly within the EIS, can be done responsibly,” he said.

The initial public comment period on the BLM review has been extended to May 16.


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