The Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop on Thursday called for the Bureau of Land Management to deny a request to further extend oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide area and instead to allow the leases to expire.
Houston-based SG Interests sent a letter on Tuesday asking the BLM to extend the expiration date on its 18 Thompson Divide leases by two more years, to April 1, 2016.
“These leases are now in year 11 of 10-year lease terms,” Wilderness Workshop staff attorney Peter Hart wrote in a prepared statement. “They were illegally issued in the first place — which BLM is now trying to rectify retroactively — and on top of that SG did nothing during the first 10 years to justify being given more time. The most expedient and appropriate course of action is for BLM to let these illegal and undeveloped leases expire, once and for all.”
Last April, the BLM extended SG Interests’ Thompson Divide leases for a year — to April 1, 2014 — based in part on what it said was its need to conduct an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Environmental groups have argued that the leases were granted illegally from the outset because the EIS had not been conducted.
SG Interests, in its Jan. 14 letter to the BLM, cites several reasons in support of its extension request, including that the BLM has not yet begun its NEPA review and that the agency failed to respond to the company’s requests during 2012 for an application for a permit to drill.
“In late December 2013, BLM informally indicated that it expects to begin lease NEPA review in early 2014, but is not expected to make a decision until late 2015 …” the letter says.
The letter also cites ongoing negotiations among leaseholders and various environmental groups and local governments for the leases to be purchased and removed from potential development.
“The most recent discussions occurred on Dec. 20, 2013 and included SG, Thompson Divide Coalition, Pitkin County, Trout Unlimited and Trust for Public Lands,” according to SG’s letter. “These negotiations need more time and should be allowed to continue during the time BLM is conducting the environmental analyses of these leases …”
“SG took out a very cheap bet on leases in a remote, geologically unpromising area. The bet didn’t pay off within the allotted 10 years, but the company wants to stay in the game,” wrote Hart.
“The more time it can wangle, the more chance it has to get a big speculative payout — either by securing long-term ownership of the leases until gas prices make it profitable to drill, or by getting bought out by [Thompson Divide Coalition],” he continues. “Our community and our public lands are being held hostage by this company. It’s time for BLM to put an end to it.”