ASPEN, Colorado - The Pitkin County commissioners are the first local government out of the gate with an administrative appeal of the recent U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lease-suspension decision concerning natural-gas drilling on public lands in the controversial Thompson Divide area.
According to assistant county attorney Chris Seldin, he was instructed on April 9 to begin working on an appeal, which is to be filed by April 29 with Colorado BLM Director Helen Hankins.
The decision to file an appeal was made by the Board of County Commissioners in executive session on April 9, Seldin said.
That same day, the BLM's Colorado River field office director, Steve Bennett, announced the agency would "suspend" 25 leases in the Thompson Divide area, which puts on hold a 10-year "use it or lose it" deadline for the lease holders, SG Interests and Ursa Resources Group.
Several local governments, including the cities of Glenwood Springs and Carbondale and Pitkin County, had lobbied the BLM to let the leases expire as intended when the leases were issued in 2003.
Development of the natural gas leases also has been resisted by area environmental organizations, and by a specially formed group of ranchers, business interests and recreationalists known as the Thompson Divide Coalition.
Drilling opponents say the 221,500 acres of public land are too valuable to the region's economy to be disturbed by natural gas exploration and extraction.
The appeal of the suspension decision, Seldin said, will ask Hankins to reverse Bennett's decision, though it will not specifically mention the interest in letting the leases expire.
"That is really the same thing," Seldin said, explaining that in overruling Bennett, Hankins would essentially be assuring that the leases will be allowed to expire.
"We're really asking the BLM to not breathe new life into the leases," Seldin concluded.