Commissioners formally support Thompson Divide lease swap
Garfield County commissioners followed through Monday in signing a letter of support, “in concept” anyway, of a proposal by two energy companies to swap federal oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide area south of Glenwood Springs for new ones on national forest lands in four neighboring counties.
The letter, addressed to Colorado’s two U.S. senators, Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, and 3rd District Congressman Scott Tipton, endorses legislation that would make the lease exchange possible.
The possible settlement regarding disputed leases covering about 42,000 acres in the Thompson Divide region that are currently being reviewed by the Bureau of Land Management was unveiled two weeks ago by representatives of Houston-based SG Interests and Ursa Piceance LLC.
As proposed, the deal would involve SG giving up 18 federal leases in its Lake Ridge Unit, as well as drilling rights beneath the existing Wolf Creek storage unit located south of Sunlight Mountain Resort, which make up about 30,000 acres.
In exchange, it would receive an “acre-for-acre” or equal value for leasable lands on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests in parts of Delta, Mesa and Gunnison counties.
Likewise, Ursa would give up seven Thompson Divide-area leases, covering about 12,000 acres, for leasing rights elsewhere on the White River National Forest in Rio Blanco County.
The possible settlement, depending on the actual legislative language that is yet to be crafted, has also earned the support of conservation and energy groups, including the Thompson Divide Coalition, the Wilderness Workshop and the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
“Garfield County believes the proposed exchange legislation would resolve the key disagreement in the Thompson Divide, while compensating the lessees fairly … with the opportunity to develop federal leases in other more appropriate areas,” the letter signed Monday by county commissioners John Martin, Tom Jankovsky and Mike Samson states.
“To be clear,” the letter continues, “oil and gas development is central to our county’s economy, and we are vigilant of private property rights in all cases.
“But we are also aware of the unique characteristics of the Thompson Divide and its importance to the citizens of ours and neighboring counties.”
Proposed legislation to facilitate a lease exchange “is consistent with (the county’s) position that the possibility of oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide, and related access concerns, should be extinguished, but that the legal rights of the Thompson Divide … lessees should be recognized and compensated, in the form of an exchange.”
One concern that has been expressed is that the communities on the receiving end of the proposed exchange, namely those in the North Fork Valley, have a say in the pending negotiations.
“Those communities need to be involved should this move forward,” Zane Kessler, executive director for the Thompson Divide Coalition, reiterated at the Monday commissioners meeting.
“We do still support this in concept, as a first step in a process that could lead to a resolution,” Kessler said. “We do want to wait and see where these other counties come out in this.”
The Garfield commissioners made it clear that they, too, want to be kept apprised of the settlement negotiations and whatever legislative language is ultimately introduced.
SG Interests’ Eric Sanford said Monday that he has been in the process of soliciting support from the affected counties, including meetings last week with Gunnison County commissioners and earlier on Monday with the Delta County commissioners.
That local support will be critical in presenting the proposed settlement to Bennet, Gardner and Tipton for consideration, Sanford said.
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Officer Haley Walker sat beside her stepmother in a windowless interrogation room just before starting the overnight shift on Thursday evening.