North Fork leasing removal sought in Thompson Divide deal |

North Fork leasing removal sought in Thompson Divide deal

Four Mile Park south of Glenwood Springs, with the Thompson Divide area in the distance, as seen from above courtesy pilot Bruce Gordon and Eco-Flight earlier this summer. A proposal is on the table from energy companies to exchange oil and gas leases in the area for new ones elsewhere in western Colorado.
Will Grandbois | Post Independent

A recent pact between Delta County commissioners and a North Fork Valley citizens group seeks to remove some federal land north of Paonia and Hotchkiss from future oil and gas leasing as part of a proposed lease exchange first proposed for the Thompson Divide area southwest of Glenwood Springs.

The North Fork effort appears to be in concert with Garfield County’s support for the Carbondale-based Thompson Divide Coalition’s attempts to do the same in the Thompson Divide, although similar language has not yet been proposed for that particular area.

“I see where they are trying to go with it,” Garfield Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said of a letter sent by the Delta commissioners to members of Colorado’s congressional delegation last week.

But, as with the recently proposed lease exchange that would have two energy companies relinquish leases in the Thompson Divide for leasable acreage farther west, “it is somewhat vague,” Jankovsky said.

“At this point, our resolution of support and our position in general has always been for the Thompson Divide Coalition and energy companies to work together to come up with a solution,” Jankovsky said. “I think we’re getting closer to that.”

The Delta County letter was in follow-up to that county’s stated support in May for an oil and gas lease exchange proposed by SG Interests and Ursa Piceance LLC earlier this year.

That proposal calls for the two companies to give up leases on about 42,000 acres on the White River National Forest in the Thompson Divide area, as well as drilling rights beneath the Wolf Creek storage unit near Four Mile Park.

In exchange, the companies would receive an equal amount of leases on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests in parts of Delta, Mesa and Gunnison counties. Colorado’s two senators, Republican Cory Gardner and Democrat Michael Bennet, and 3rd District Congressman Scott Tipton, a Republican, are being asked to craft the necessary legislation to authorize the exchange.

When the exchange was proposed, however, the Delta County group Citizens for a Healthy Community expressed concerns that, by doing away with leases in the Thompson Divide, it could shift some of the impacts from drilling to the North Fork Valley.

In offering its support, Delta County commissioners said the proposed exchange provided an opportunity for “larger landscape conversation” about mineral leasing in the North Fork.

“Delta County has worked collaboratively with stakeholders in the last two months to reach a point of consensus specific to the mineral management in the North Fork Valley that includes a fluid mineral withdrawal and other legislated stipulations,” the county said in a July 10 news release.

“The point of consensus is for oil and gas only and does not impact coal or the ability to capture and market methane,” the county specified.

“Development on the exchange leases should be allowed to progress under the lease requirements as administered within federal, state and local regulations,” it said. “The protections of water resources, air quality, visual resources, and related traffic issues must and would be addressed by thorough site specific reviews and resulting conditions of approvals.”

Zane Kessler, the executive director for the Thompson Divide Coalition, applauded Delta County for taking a position regarding the removal of sensitive areas of the national forest from future leasing, and would like to see the same done for the roughly 221,000 acres that make up the Thompson Divide.

“It’s good to see that Delta County has joined Garfield County and other Western Slope communities in requesting balanced management for recreation, agriculture and development needs,” Kessler said.

“In the same way that our folks have worked together for nearly a decade, it appears that stakeholders in the North Fork Valley have worked together to reach consensus about the best use of the public lands that their local economies rely on,” he said.

Garfield County commissioners, in their April 20 letter to Gardner, Bennet and Tipton supporting the exchange, agreed that the potential for oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide should be “extinguished.”

But the letter did not go so far as to say the Thompson Divide area should be permanently removed from future leasing.

“We believe the proposed federally legislated exchange is consistent with Garfield 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 … lessees should be recognized and compensated, in the form of an exchange,” Garfield County’s letter read.

The undeveloped Thompson Divide-area leases proposed for exchange are also currently under review by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as part of a larger review of 65 leases on the White River Forest straddling the Garfield and Mesa county lines. A decision on whether to uphold, modify or cancel all or some of those leases is expected sometime later this year.

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