GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Although the parties to ongoing Thompson Divide negotiations are not saying much, there are indications the talks have entered a new phase in which the energy companies have agreed to accept some kind of payment in return for abandonment of their gas-drilling ambitions for the area.
A spokesman for the Ursa Resources energy company, which holds gas drilling leases in the Thompson Divide, said his company is eager to conclude talks with the Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC) and create a workable deal.
“We’ve been up-front with them and talking with them since February,” said Don Simpson of Ursa. “We’d like to move on and just get it done ... sooner rather than later. We have tossed around different dollar amounts ... and come up with something palatable to them and palatable to us.”
He would not give even a ballpark figure, nor a comparison between a proposed $2.5 million settlement and the figure Ursa deems “palatable.”
But, he said, “It’s much less than we value them at. It’s a bargain.”
Concerning future talks, he said, “We think it’s going to be productive and ... the prospects look good. It’s in the TDC’s court.”
On the TDC side of the table, officials were less forthcoming.
“There’s negotiations going on,” said Judy Fox-Perry, secretary of the Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC) board, which has been in deep talks with several energy companies over the past eight months, as TDC seeks to keep drilling rigs out of a region that is highly valued by an array of local residents, ranchers, outdoor enthusiasts and municipal and county governments in the region.
Fox-Perry, however, firmly declined to attach current negotiated dollar amounts to the talks, which got started after the TDC last February offered to pay $2.5 million to companies owning undeveloped leases in the Thompson Divide region.
“I don’t think there’s a specific [dollar] amount now,” she said. “Everything’s contingent on the legislation. It’s all just a lot of balls in the air.”
The TDC has been fighting for three years to protect roughly 220,000 acres of public land in the area south and west of both Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.
The region extends into Pitkin County (88,100 acres), Gunnison County (51,700 acres), Garfield County (43,500 acres), Mesa County (30,500 acres) and Delta County (7,700 acres). There are 61 leases in the area covering approximately 105,000 acres.
The TDC campaign has won the legislative support of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who last March introduced a bill that would remove much of the contested area from future oil and gas leasing offers.
The $2.5 million settlement offer originally was extended to Antero Resources, Encana Oil and Gas, Willsource Enterprises LLC & Partners, and Gunnison Energy Corp. — all of Denver — along with Falcon Seaboard Oil and Gas LLC, and SG Interests, both of Houston.
Both Fox-Perry and TDC director Zane Kessler said Monday that SG Interests and Ursa Resources (which last year bought out Antero’s assets in the area) have been working closely with the TDC.
“We have made a lot of distance with Ursa,” Fox-Perry added. “The negotiations have been real productive.”
She said talks with SG Interests have not been as productive, but are continuing.
“They recognize now that potentially, with the legislation and the rest, that they might not be able to drill,” Fox-Perry continued. “I do think it’s a matter of time.”
Fred Lodge, current chairman of the TDC board, also declined to give specifics about the ongoing negotiations, other than that the negotiators are “encouraged” by the results so far.