Elected officials support gas lease action

A group of local elected officials has thrown its support to a proposal by the Bureau of Land Management to cancel oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide area and modify dozens of others on the White River National Forest.

The officials include Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, Pitkin County Commissioner Steve Child and the mayors of both Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, Mike Gamba and Stacey Bernot.

The letter to BLM State Director Ruth Welch, circulated by the Thompson Divide Coalition and dated Dec. 17, thanks the agency for its process to examine 65 previously issued leases, calling it “an important path toward resolving the long-standing issues presented by improperly issued leases in the Thompson Divide.”

The BLM is in the middle of a formal public comment period through Jan. 8 regarding its “proposed action” to cancel 18 leases altogether and partially cancel seven others within the Thompson Divide. The proposal also seeks to modify 40 other leases located on the national forest straddling the Garfield and Mesa county line west of the Divide toward DeBeque.

“It’s always been our position that the Thompson Divide is a special place, and that we would like to see the [coalition] and the oil and gas companies work together to come up with a resolution.”Tom JankovskyCommissioner

“We appreciate that BLM’s proposed action aims to balance the need for future development of public minerals in the Piceance Basin with the need to conserve certain public lands in the Thompson Divide area” the letter reads in part. “We support this balanced approach and urge BLM to move forward without delay.“

Martin confirmed that he signed the letter of his own volition, without input from the other two Garfield County commissioners, but that it represents the county’s position regarding leases in the Thompson Divide.

“It doesn’t change the county’s position from our scoping position,” Martin said of the county’s comments during the information-gathering phase for the BLM’s environmental review process last year.

“We have got to resolve things, and get off the dime,” he said. “This is just an attempt to get things moving.”

However, fellow Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said he’s not quite ready to endorse the BLM’s proposal.

While the county has said it would like to see the Thompson Divide Coalition and energy companies work together to resolve things regarding those particular leases, he also wants to see lease holders made whole in the process.

Jankovsky said his fellow commissioner’s signature on the TDC letter was “a little surprising to me.”

“It’s always been our position that the Thompson Divide is a special place, and that we would like to see the [coalition] and the oil and gas companies work together to come up with a resolution,” Jankovsky said.

But the county is likely to express concerns about some of the stipulations attached to the leases that are to be modified in the proposal through its formal comments on the BLM proposal. Those comments are to be discussed in a special meeting today with staff from U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s office.

David Ludlam, executive director for the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, was also critical of the letter and said he hopes it doesn’t reflect the county’s formal position.

“This proposed action does a lot more than cancel leases in the Thompson Divide,” Ludlam said. “The owner stipulations on the leases that wouldn’t be canceled are so onerous as to render the leases non-developable.”

Those stipulations would prohibit surface occupancy and limit access to leases that are in identified roadless areas, he noted.

“We consider it a takings, and are looking at prospective damages on behalf of our members,” Ludlam said.

West Slope COGA and the energy companies that hold the affected leases have appealed a BLM decision not to extend the public comment period on the environmental impact statement for another 90 days directly to BLM chief Neil Kornze and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in Washington, D.C. Members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation have joined in that request.

TDC director Zane Kessler said the letter was not intended to reflect either county’s position as a whole, but to line up support from individual elected officials.

But he said it does reflect the county’s position that a preferred alternative should consider the Thompson Divide leases separately from those elsewhere in the study area.

TDC members praised the support from what they viewed as a “bipartisan delegation” of local elected officials.

“Our communities are clearly working together to find a common ground on this issue,” Dorothea Farris, a former Pitkin County commissioner and Carbondale resident, said in a news release. “It’s great to see such broad support for a balanced solution.”

Added Carbondale rancher and TDC member Jason Sewell, “People’s livelihoods are at stake on both ends of Forest. BLM’s proposal respects the needs of the many different communities involved.”

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