Negotiations lead to Thompson Divide boundary adjustment
The second-largest leaseholder in the Thompson Divide region says it will support efforts to protect public lands stretching south of Glenwood Springs to McClure Pass from oil and gas development after negotiating an adjustment to the southern boundary where it has active leases.
Denver-based Gunnison Energy LLC, a division of the Oxbow Co. that operates coal mines in the North Fork Valley, has reached an agreement with the Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC) to remove areas where the company already holds leases, including some producing gas wells, according to the TDC.
According to a statement sent Thursday from the Carbondale-based coalition, the agreement marks the end of a yearlong negotiation with Gunnison Energy regarding the southern boundary of the Thompson Divide.
“Throughout the course of the negotiations, stakeholders worked together to adjust the proposed legislative boundary in a way that could meet Gunnison Energy’s needs on producing leases in the area while protecting critical fisheries, wildlife habitat and watersheds in Gunnison County’s Clear Fork Roadless Area,” the statement says.
Those negotiations also involved Trout Unlimited and Gunnison County commissioners, who on Tuesday lent their support to pending federal legislation regarding a possible lease exchange involving other leases in the Thompson Divide that would be traded for leases in Mesa and Rio Blanco counties.
The county’s support of the exchange proposal put forth by two other energy companies, SG Interests and Ursa Piceance, was contingent on removal of another section of federal land in the upper reaches of the North Fork Valley from future consideration for oil and gas leasing.
According to the TDC, after Gunnison Energy expressed concerns about the legislative boundary being contemplated in U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act, the senator asked the various stakeholders to work together toward a compromise.
Gunnison Energy President Brad Robinson, in a July 22 letter sent to Bennet, said the company would support the senator’s withdrawal and protection act contingent on the boundary adjustment, which removed roughly 8,000 acres from the original legislative boundary.
The withdrawal act, which has not been reintroduced since it was first offered up by Bennet two years ago, is separate from the legislation that would be necessary to forward the lease exchange.
Gunnison Energy “is concerned that merely having gas operations within the TDC area boundary will lead to permitting delays and increased environmental compliance costs,” Robinson said in the recent letter to Bennet.
“With the change in boundary and the assurances I have received concerning our continued normal operations in this area, I support passage of the act,” he wrote.
David Ludlam, executive director for the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said it’s important to make a distinction between withdrawal areas from future development, which his organization opposes, and the latest lease exchange proposal.
“They are conflating two issues here,” Ludlam said of the separate efforts to meet the goals of the TDC.
“The lease swap is something everyone in our organization can agree on, but it’s a different issue (from withdrawal),” he said.
Ludlam also criticized the TDC for adjusting the boundaries of the area it seeks to protect for what he called “political convenience.”
Meanwhile, Gunnison County Commission Chairwoman Paula Swenson reiterated support for the latest negotiated agreement and other attempts to protect the Thompson Divide and other sensitive lands in the region.
“We support this commonsense compromise, which helps to balance our needs for energy production and conservation,” Swenson said in the TDC release. “We’re glad to have Gunnison Energy’s support for the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act.
“This shows that when all parties come to the table, in good faith, we can work together to achieve a balance that meets the needs of stakeholders on both sides of the table,” she said.
TDC board member Jason Sewell, a fifth-generation rancher in the Crystal River Valley, also endorsed the compromise regarding the boundary adjustment.
“As ranchers and small business owners, we understood that we wouldn’t get everything we originally wanted,” he said. “That’s just not how negotiations work.”
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