BLM hears pro-energy side
Supporters want feds to honor all gas leases
DE BEQUE — The Bureau of Land Management heard the other side of the story Thursday as pro-energy forces rallied in support of preserving 65 oil and gas leases and chided the Aspen resort region for its efforts to have at least some of those leases canceled.
Hundreds of natural gas workers, contractors and their supporters attended a scoping meeting the BLM held as it undertakes a new environmental review of the leases, covering White River National Forest lands stretching mostly from De Beque to Redstone.
The meeting follows ones held by the BLM in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Aspen, where the agency overwhelmingly heard opposition to the leases — particularly 25 in the Thompson Divide area southwest of Glenwood Springs, which many in the Roaring Fork Valley want protected from drilling. The De Beque meeting was scheduled after questions were raised about why the BLM hadn’t scheduled any in an area more supportive of drilling and close to many of the leases being reviewed.
In comments at a press conference and to the BLM, Mesa County commissioners Rose Pugliese and John Justman both questioned why the BLM only scheduled the De Beque meeting as an afterthought. They also joined many others in pointing to the importance of energy development to the regional economy and worrying about the impact of potentially canceling leases, the majority of which are in Mesa County, with others in Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties.
“Our constituents have the right to feed their babies,” Pugliese said.
The BLM says it needs to do the new review because of a failure to do an environmental analysis or adopt the Forest Service’s analysis before the leases were issued. It says the review could lead to leases being canceled, modified or left untouched, and that the approach could vary on a lease-by-lease basis.
Lois Dunn, a Grand Valley real estate agent, said that in viewing the matter from a property-rights perspective, she’s “astonished” that the BLM could consider not honoring companies’ leases.
“To think that we can ignore that (property right) is beyond belief,” she said.
Rio Blanco County Commissioner Shawn Bolton questioned whether the Thompson Divide area is any more pristine than other areas in the region and should be protected from drilling. He also criticized what he considers a not-in-my-backyard attitude from a ski-resort valley heavily dependent on energy for uses such as heating homes. He and others questioned the role that Pitkin County has played in causing leases outside Pitkin County to come under review, threatening more energy-dependent economies.
Many speakers Thursday challenged the notion — voiced repeatedly at the prior meetings in the Roaring Fork Valley — that oil and gas development poses a health threat, and suggested that an elite class in and around Aspen is threatening working-class jobs.
Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards responded that her county only pushed the BLM to review leases within the county. And Zane Kessler, executive director of the Thompson Divide Coalition, said its efforts are directed only at protecting the 220,000-acre Thompson Divide area. Both said the BLM’s inclusion of leases outside the Thompson Divide area has to some degree muddied the conversation over the lease review.
Said Richards, “Frankly, we wish they’d only focused on the Thompson Divide leases.”
But both Richards and Kessler praised the opportunity for locals to speak up regarding leases in their local areas, just as Kessler said the Roaring Fork Valley has spoken in favor of protecting the Thompson Divide and its ranching, recreational and other economies.
“This is about local economies and local control,” Kessler said.
State Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, and representatives with Club 20, the Grand Junction and Rifle chambers of commerce and the Western Colorado Contractors Association joined in supporting the leases Thursday.
“These are real jobs they’re playing with,” said Duncan McArthur, who represents the contractors association and is a Grand Junction City Council member.
He called on the BLM “to do the right thing and keep the leases intact.”
Bradly Apple of Grand Junction, who works for Encana, went to De Beque Thursday with his wife and children. He said he worried that if the BLM can cancel some companies’ leases, it can do the same in the case of all companies.
“Then we’ll all be out of a job,” he said.
Alex Bethel of Carbondale said she was surprised by the size of Thursday’s turnout, and is glad that the public in De Beque and elsewhere has been given the chance to give their views on how lands should be treated. As for herself, she said she’d like to see all 65 leases canceled, in part because some have roadless areas.
“I think there are some places too special to drill,” she explained.