Thompson Divide leases suspended

The Bureau of Land Management granted a new lease on life for two companies’ oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide area Tuesday, but also found what it called a defect related to the leases’ issuance that could lead to them being voided.

The BLM said it has approved suspension requests from SG Interests and Ursa Resources for their leases in the area west of Carbondale in the White River National Forest. SG has 18 leases there covering 21,167 acres, and Ursa has seven leases covering 12,020 acres.

The action stops the clock on the 10-year deadline that leaseholders have to start developing their leases and keep them active. The leases in question were issued in 2003. The suspensions, which last through April 1, 2014, prevent any development activity while environmental analysis occurs.

Entities including the Thompson Divide Coalition had been urging the BLM to simply let the leases expire, as part of a larger effort to protect some 220,000 acres in the Thompson Divide area from oil and gas development.

The suspension requests were made partly to give the BLM more time to do environmental analysis of the companies’ development proposals. However, the agency said it also has identified the need to remedy the lack of an environmental analysis at the time of the leases’ issuance. The environmental analysis it is conducting now will determine whether the leases should be voided, modified or reaffirmed, the BLM said.

The Thompson Divide Coalition also has sought to buy back leases, and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., has introduced legislation that would withdraw unleased federal acreage in the area from leasing, and retire existing leased acreage when companies agree to sell or donate leases.

The BLM says the suspensions will allow for more public comment.

“We’re disappointed that BLM didn’t consider the thousands of comments already submitted, but we believe the added conditions clear the way for future public involvement and a formal opportunity for our communities to be heard,” Thompson Divide Coalition executive director Zane Kessler said.

Mike Freeman, an attorney with Earthjustice, which is working with the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, said the BLM “has recognized that these leases were let illegally” and it should terminate them now.

Robbie Guinn of SG Interests said the company is pleased that the BLM recognized that suspension is appropriate when, in the BLM’s words, “through no fault of a lessee or bona fide purchaser, (a lease) was sold and issued without adherence to the agency’s procedural obligations.”


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