The state office of the Bureau of Land Management on Monday upheld a local BLM decision made in March to allow more than two dozen oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide area to be extended for a second straight year beyond their original 2013 expiration date.
But the decision just sets up a likely appeal to the U.S. Interior Board of Land Appeals in Washington, D.C., said Chris Seldin, the assistant Pitkin County attorney who is arguing the case on behalf of three area governments, including the city of Glenwood Springs.
The Monday ruling “did not come as a great surprise,” Seldin said, adding the Board of Land Appeals process should have a greater prospect for success in making the case that the leases should have been allowed to expire.
“It’s more like a hearing in front of a court, and I believe the IBLA will look very hard at our arguments calling for letting these leases expire,” he said.
In order to proceed, Seldin will first need to get the go-ahead from the Pitkin County commissioners, as well as the Carbondale town board and Glenwood Springs City Council, which have both been party to the administrative appeal.
Steve Bennett, the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office manager, ruled March 31 that the leases held by two energy companies, SG Interests and Ursa Piceance, would be extended for another two years in order to allow the BLM to conduct its own environmental analysis of leases issued under a 1993 U.S. Forest Service EIS.
The new BLM review includes not only the 25 leases that are located within the Thompson Divide area situated south of Glenwood Springs and west of Carbondale in remote northwestern Pitkin County, but a total of 65 leases in a larger area of the White River National Forest straddling the Garfield, Pitkin, Mesa, Delta and Gunnison county lines.
Houston-based SG Interests applied last year to develop test wells on leases in its Lake Ridge Unit located in Pitkin County, following the BLM’s decision in April 2013 granting a one-year extension to its leases.
The BLM review is intended “to determine whether the leases should be voided, reaffirmed or subject to additional mitigation measures for site-specific development proposals,” according to Bennett’s March decision.
The lease suspensions were also challenged by the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, which also may continue its appeal to the IBLA.