Thompson Divide drilling foes counter BLM official’s claim

A Carbondale-based conservation group is taking issue with an assertion by the national director of the Bureau of Land Management that oil and gas development is common near a proposed leasing unit west of Carbondale.

Bob Abbey made the assertion in letters to U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both D-Colo. The two have asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to delay action on a proposal by SG Interests to have 18 federal leases covering 32,000 acres combined into a unit.

The senators want more time for discussions among parties, including SG Interests and the Thompson Divide Coalition. The group is trying to prevent drilling on 220,000 acres west of Carbondale, including most of the acreage included in the unitization request.

Creating the unit would keep the company from having to drill in each of its lease areas to prevent them from expiring in 2013. If they expire, the coalition hopes to stop new leasing from occurring.

Responding to the senators, Abbey wrote, “Energy development is common in this area, much of which has been leased for oil and gas development since the 1950s. In fact, there are multiple oil and gas units located west of the proposed Lake Ridge unit area, including a producing unit that adjoins the proposed unit.”

Attorney Michael Freeman of the legal organization Earthjustice challenged that statement in a letter to Salazar and Vilsack. Writing on behalf of the Wilderness Workshop conservation group, Freeman said, “To the contrary, there appear to be no producing oil and gas wells in the Thompson Divide, according to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission records.”

He said the only current activity involves wells used to store gas just west of the proposed unit.

Notably, no units in the Thompson Divide area have producing wells, which “underscores our concern that BLM should not allow companies to use unitization as a means to prevent non-producing leases from expiring,” Freeman wrote.

BLM spokesman Steven Hall said the agency was referring to the Thompson Divide area in a larger, generic geographic sense, and not as it is defined by the coalition.

There are producing wells west of the coalition-defined area. The proposed unit is close to known oil and gas deposits, Hall said, and the BLM believes it has high potential for oil and gas occurrence.

If the unitization proposal is approved, Freeman wrote, environmental analysis first should be conducted, and no surface disturbance should be allowed in roadless areas that encompass 13 of the leases.


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