Thompson Divide leasing in question

The Bureau of Land Management will consider the adequacy of environmental review leading to the leasing of oil and gas parcels southwest of Glenwood Springs before any of the leases are developed.

What that could mean if the review was inadequate remains unclear, but the agency previously has canceled existing leases in that area because of a lack of proper pre-lease environmental review.

Conservationists, ranchers, local governments and others in the Roaring Fork Valley are seeking to protect the 220,000-acre Thompson Divide area, extending roughly from Glenwood Springs to McClure Pass, from oil and gas development. However, more than 100,000 acres in that area already have been leased.

SG Interests and Ursa Resources have asked for suspension of leases southwest of Glenwood Springs that are set to expire later this year.

Leases last 10 years unless drilling activity and production begins, but the expiration dates can be postponed by suspension.

A coalition offered last year to raise $2.5 million to buy out leaseholders and stop drilling in the Thompson Divide area, but companies have said the leases are worth much more. Now, drilling opponents are urging the BLM to let the SG and Ursa leases expire.

“It just seems pretty obvious that extending the leases creates value where there is none at this point,” said Peter Hart, Wilderness Workshop attorney.

SG and Ursa say the lease suspensions are warranted in part because of the BLM’s failure to make decisions on pending requests to have certain Thompson Divide leases grouped into units, under which minimal drilling would have to occur to keep all leases in the units active. Ursa has acquired the Piceance Basin assets of Antero Resources, which initially asked for a Thompson Divide unit.

Meanwhile, SG says BLM national Acting Director Mike Pool has told the company the agency will make no decisions on its unit request or more recent drilling permit applications until the BLM conducts a National Environmental Policy Act analysis of its 2003 decision to issue the leases.

Hart says he thinks Pool’s statement backs up what he long has contended — that the BLM failed to do its own environmental policy act review prior to issuing the leases.

In 2009, the BLM withdrew three leases owned by Encana USA in the Coal Basin area west of Redstone and refunded the company for lease bid and rental costs, after an Interior Board of Land Appeals decision.

The interior board said the BLM improperly failed to adopt a Forest Service pre-leasing environmental analysis or do one of its own.

BLM spokesman David Boyd said before any development of the SG and Ursa leases could occur, environmental review would be required. That review “could include additional analysis of the leases themselves if we find deficiencies in the NEPA completed on the leases.”

It’s too early to say what that ultimately could mean for the leases, he said.

SG Interests official Robbie Guinn said he doesn’t think leases would be invalidated if the environmental review leading to their issuance were found to be inadequate.

But he added, “I don’t have enough information to know whether I should be worried about it or not.”


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