County reiterates: ‘4 Mile Road is not a haul route’
Garfield County commissioners are not willing to discuss with SG Interests the use of Four Mile Road outside Glenwood Springs as a haul route to the company’s latest proposed well in the Thompson Divide area.
“I’m going to continue to say what all three of us have said before … that Four Mile Road is not a haul route,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said during a brief discussion among the three county commissioners during their regular Monday meeting.
“We need to be involved in the (environmental review) process and make sure our position is loud and clear to the Forest Service,” Jankovsky said. “And, if necessary, we will take legal action.”
Last week, Houston-based SG Interests filed a formal “notice of staking” with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to drill a test well within the Wolf Creek gas storage unit in remote eastern Mesa County, south of Four Mile Park.
The notice is the first step in the process to seek a permit to drill a well on one of several Thompson Divide-area leases that SG recently proposed exchanging for new leases farther west in Mesa County.
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The company, in a press release issued Monday afternoon, explained its latest move, which came under fire from groups including the Thompson Divide Coalition in light of the proposed exchange.
“SG proposed and still fully supports a narrow congressional effort to resolve oil and gas development conflicts in the Thompson Divide area,” Robbie Guinn, SG’s vice president for land, said in the release.
“Our company is leading the way to find a resolution by working to achieve a narrow lease exchange framework that will resolve those conflicts,” he said, adding that recent efforts to remove areas outside the Thompson Divide in the North Fork Valley from future leasing as part of the deal have muddied the waters.
“SG has an obligation to pursue a parallel business plan to develop leases we currently own in the event that Congress does not adopt the exchange proposal or a similar proposal in a timely manner,” Guinn said.
The staking notice can be terminated if the lease exchange is successful, he said. The lease for which the new permit is being sought has been in existence for more than 60 years, and is held in perpetuity.
SG owns the right to develop the lease beneath the natural gas storage unit, which is owned by public utility SourceGas.
It is not one of the 64 White River National Forest oil and gas leases, including about two dozen in the Thompson Divide area, being reviewed by the BLM to determine if they should be maintained, modified or canceled.
SG also has pending applications for permits to drill on other leases in the divide that are part of the ongoing review of leases issued under a 1993 White River National Forest leasing plan. Those applications are on hold pending the outcome of the analysis.
ROAD USE CONCERNS PERSIST
In each of its drilling applications, SG has indicated that it prefers to use a combination of Four Mile Road (County Road 117) and forest access roads to haul heavy drilling equipment into the area.
However, Garfield County and the city of Glenwood Springs have both opposed the use of Four Mile as a haul route, which would also involve use of Midland Avenue and 27th Street in Glenwood to access Highway 82.
“We can’t stop them from driving pickup trucks up there,” Jankovsky said. But the road is not adequate to handle heavy equipment, he and fellow Commissioners Mike Samson and John Martin reiterated.
“We haven’t wavered from that position, and I don’t see that changing,” Samson said at the Monday meeting.
Added Martin, “I understand their (SG’s) dilemma” regarding the most direct access to its leases. “But we also have one,” he said.
Jankovsky said he would like to talk to the Forest Service about directing the hauling of other forest products, such as timber, to upper Divide Creek road instead.
Divide Creek (County Road 311 and 313) south of Silt is a designated county haul route.
SG NOT IN North FORK TALKS
Various efforts aimed at removing existing leases in the Thompson Divide and protecting the area from future leasing are still in the works, but would require federal legislation to accomplish.
In March of this year, SG Interests and another energy company, Ursa Piceance LLC, proposed swapping divide-area leases for new ones on forest lands in Mesa and Rio Blanco counties.
The proposal has earned support from the various counties involved. U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton of Colorado have been asked to carry the legislation.
Bennet is separately seeking to reintroduce his Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act, which would support efforts to remove existing leases and prevent future leasing of federal lands in the area.
Guinn said SG believes a straight acre-for-acre lease exchange has the best chance in Congress, without expanding the scope of the proposal.
He said SG was not invited to participate in the talks concerning expanding the scope of the exchange by removing parts of the Gunnison National Forest in the upper North Fork Valley near McClure Pass from future leasing. Delta and Gunnison county commissioners have since supported such an effort.
“Had we been included as a stakeholder, SG would have made it clear that the timeline required to address all conflicts related to natural resource development on federal land on the Western Slope would not work for SG, the larger industry or our federal partners,” Guinn said in the statement.
According to the BLM, the next step in the newest drilling proposal by SG is for the Forest Service to schedule a site visit with SG Interests, which will likely happen in early September.
That would be followed by a formal environmental analysis of the proposal, which could take up to a year to complete.
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