GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - A meeting meant to begin organizing Glenwood Springs and Four Mile residents about possible gas drilling in Thompson Divide drew more than 30 people Wednesday.
For many, the meeting was an eye-opener about the potential for modern gas drilling along the western edge of the Roaring Fork Valley, along with the use of Grand Avenue, Midland Avenue and Four Mile Road as a possible access route for gas industry trucks.
"When you talk about truck traffic, boy, Glenwood will be at the hub. All of these trucks will originate from I-70 and come across the bridge into Glenwood Springs," said Judy Fox-Perry, secretary of the Carbondale-based Thompson Divide Coalition.
Coalition board members originally called the meeting with a few Glenwood Springs and Four Mile residents to plan an outreach campaign. But after news of the meeting hit the local media, a much larger crowd of residents turned out.
They came loaded with questions about drilling and its potential impacts on air and water quality, and the impacts of industry truck traffic on city and county roads.
"Are our waters going to get polluted?" asked John Traul, a Four Mile resident. What would be the recourse, he asked, if Four Mile Creek or the water table underlying Four Mile neighborhoods were to become polluted?
The Coalition leaders urged residents to send comments to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management opposing the current hot issue related to drilling in the Thompson Divide area - the unitization request filed with BLM by Houston-based SG Interests.
While the Thompson Divide area sprawls across 221,500 acres of national forest and BLM lands west of Carbondale, the unitization request is focused on a rectangular swath of 32,000 acres extending from the ridge just west of the Oak Meadows subdivision south to the Thompson Creek drainage southwest of Carbondale.
SG Interests is seeking unitization of 18 leases into what is called the Lake Ridge Unit. The company owns 16 of the leases, while Encana Oil and Gas (USA) owns the other two. All are due to expire in mid-2013, according to BLM spokesman David Boyd.
Unitization is normally a routine approval granted by BLM to place many adjacent gas leases into a common unit. Once unitized, companies can take a regional and long-term approach to gas development.
By developing one producing gas well somewhere in the unit, leases in the entire unit are secured for development any time in the future. Leases that would normally expire if they hadn't been developed within 10 years are extended indefinitely, giving companies the option to resume drilling anywhere in the unit when market conditions are favorable, Fox-Perry told the group in her presentation.
The Coalition is working to stymie the unitization request. Colorado's two U.S. senators have asked BLM to slow down the unitization approval and consider public comment, and the Coalition is asking citizens to send comments to the BLM urging denial.
Boyd said the agency is "carefully reviewing" the unitization request and the public comments, and continues to accept letters on the subject.
The time frame for issuing a decision on the Lake Ridge unitization remains uncertain, he said, but BLM will make a public announcement once it issues a decision.
Boyd noted that if industry filed an actual gas well development proposal, it must go through a public review process.
Stopping the unitization is part of a larger campaign by the Thompson Divide Coalition, which has been working since 2008 to prevent drilling in the entire Thompson Divide area before it starts. Members are working on a two-pronged campaign:
• Pass a bill in Congress to permanently withdraw the Thompson Divide area from gas leasing.
• Raise funds to buy out the area's 81 existing but as yet undeveloped gas leases.
Fox-Perry noted that there's no point in buying out leases unless the permanent withdrawal is enacted, because current rules require BLM to issue new leases whenever older leases expire.
Buoyed by the high level of interest at the organizing meeting Wednesday, Coalition leaders now plan to host another educational meeting in a larger venue, said board member Jock Jacober.