Fight rekindles over oil, gas leases

Company wants more time on Thompson Divide; green groups say deals were illegal in the first place

A company with oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide area south of Glenwood Springs has asked the federal government for another suspension of the leases, drawing renewed concern from groups seeking to prevent drilling there.

In a letter to the Bureau of Land Management Tuesday, SG Interests asked for a suspension that would keep the leases in effect through April 1, 2016. That follows the agency’s previous granting of suspension requests that kept the leases active through this April 1.

Groups including the Wilderness Workshop and Thompson Divide Coalition are seeking to protect an area totaling about 220,000 acres, roughly between Glenwood Springs and McClure Pass, from drilling.

Leases can expire after 10 years if no development occurs on them.

“These leases are now in Year 11 of 10-year lease terms,” Wilderness Workshop staff attorney Peter Hart said in a news release. “They were illegally issued in the first place — which BLM is now trying to rectify retroactively — and on top of that SG did nothing during the first 10 years to justify being given more time. The most expedient and appropriate course of action is for BLM to let these illegal and undeveloped leases expire, once and for all.”

The BLM is launching a new environmental review due to its failure to do environmental analysis, or adopt existing analysis, of the SG leases and dozens of others in the White River National Forest before their issuance. That could lead to potential modifications or withdrawal of the leases. In its request this week, SG Interests noted that the BLM has indicated that decision isn’t expected until late 2015.

Hart said his group and others are still waiting to hear from the BLM on their formal challenges to its original decision to suspend the leases.

One reason the BLM granted the initial suspension was to let SG Interests explore negotiations with other parties. The Thompson Divide Coalition has been hoping to buy out companies’ existing Thompson Divide leases.

“Deadlines are deadlines, and they’re helpful for getting things done,” TDC board member Jock Jacober said in criticizing the request for more time.

In its suspension request letter, SG Interests said it made an offer to TDC in August and had discussions at a meeting with TDC, Pitkin County on others in December. It said the lease suspensions would allow negotiations to continue while the BLM does its lease review and review of drilling permit applications by the company.


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