Enviros appeal lease suspension for drillers in Thompson Divide

A Carbondale-based conservation group asked Monday that the Colorado director of the Bureau of Land Management reconsider the agency’s decision to prolong the duration of 25 oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide area.

The Wilderness Workshop appealed the lease suspension decision with the help of Earthjustice attorney Mike Freeman, who also led litigation resulting in the BLM reconsidering its leasing of some 55,000 acres for oil and gas development in the Roan Plateau area west of Rifle. Pitkin County, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs have filed a separate but similar appeal.

Wilderness Workshop and Earthjustice are asking Helen Hankins, director of the Colorado state office of the BLM, to reverse a recent decision by Steve Bennett, director of the agency’s Colorado River Valley Field Office in Silt.

Bennett approved suspension requests for SG Interests and Ursa Resources for their leases in the Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale in the White River National Forest.

SG has 18 leases there covering 21,167 acres. Ursa has seven leases covering 12,020 acres.

The 10-year leases were due to expire this year. But leases can be extended if work begins on producing oil and gas from them or if the agency suspends them. The SG and Ursa leases cover part of a 220,000-acre area that entities including the Wilderness Workshop and Thompson Divide Coalition are trying to protect from oil and gas development.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., has introduced legislation to withdraw unleased federal acreage in the area from leasing and retire existing leased acreage when companies agree to sell or donate leases.

The Wilderness Workshop and Earthjustice noted in their appeals that President Barack Obama has adopted a policy requiring companies to either use or lose leases, rather than being able to sit on them for decades.

They said that while SG and Ursa have asserted the suspensions “serve the interests of conservation” by allowing more time for discussions with the Thompson Divide Coalition to resolve their dispute, in fact suspensions “will actually harm the environment by enabling oil and gas development that could not otherwise proceed in the area.”

The groups say acreage was improperly leased in violation of the national roadless conservation rule that was in effect when the leases were issued and was later upheld on appeal, and also was leased in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

The BLM has notified the companies that it needs to remedy the lack of an environmental analysis before the leases were issued, and will decide if the leases must be voided, modified or reaffirmed.


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