ASPEN BUSINESS JOURNAL 4-10-13 Prospect of Drilling Still Alive

Apr 10, 2013
EcoFlight's famous photo of the Thompson Divide was used to illustrate this article.
Aspen Business Journal
Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Thompson Divide
Thompson Divide (EcoFlight)

BLM ruling: Prospect of drilling west of Carbondale still alive
Staff Report
The Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday approved oil and gas lease suspension requests from SG Interests and Ursa Resources Group for their stakes in the Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale in the White River National Forest. 

The decision was not popular among local environmentalists.

“We are extremely disappointed in the BLM," Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop Executive Director Sloan Shoemaker wrote in an email. "This was a no-brainer. BLM should have held the companies to their lease contracts and let these leases expire. Instead, the agency disregarded the will of the public and the terms that the companies themselves agreed to in buying the leases."

Suspending the leases prevents any development activity, pauses the 10-year deadline leaseholders have to develop their leases, and allows for additional public input and environmental analysis.

“The lease suspensions allow the BLM additional time to complete environmental analyses on the companies’ leases and their development proposals,” said BLM Colorado River Valley Field Manager Steve Bennett. “These suspensions will also provide the community and the leaseholders an opportunity to continue their dialogue on the future of the leases in the Thompson Divide area."

He noted that, in the end, the leases could be voided, reaffirmed or modified.

BLM officials said the request for suspension was granted, in part, to give BLM additional time to conduct the required National Environmental Policy Act environmental analysis on the companies’ development proposals.

“While I know many communities in the Thompson Divide area had hoped the leases would expire this May, I am pleased to see that BLM has recognized the importance of the ongoing community dialog over future development," said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who, last month, introduced the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act, which would withdraw unleased public minerals in the area.

"The suspension decision underscores the need to continue the discussions on the ground and pass the bill we introduced last month," the senator said.

As the manager of the leasing process, the BLM is the lead agency for decisions on lease suspension and proposed unit agreements. Federal units allow multiple leases to be managed as a single unit to minimize surface disturbance and allow for orderly development.

SG Interest holds 18 leases in the Thompson Divide area and Ursa Resources Group holds seven. In May 2011, SG Interests submitted a request to unitize their leases. SG Interests has submitted 6 applications for permits to drill on leases in the Thompson Divide area and recently requested suspensions for leases purchased from Encana. A unitization request for the leases held by Ursa Resources Group was submitted in 2012. The leased tracts in the Thompson Divide area were approved for sale by the U.S. Forest Service and sold by the BLM in 2003-2004.