SG presses for Thompson Divide drilling
Houston-based SG Interests has filed paperwork to drill an exploratory well within the Wolf Creek gas storage area in the northwestern part of the Thompson Divide region.
The plan reopens a controversial plan to use Glenwood Springs streets and Four Mile Road as a truck route to reach the site.
The well would involve a lease that’s more than 60 years old that could be part of an eventual lease swap proposed by SG and one other energy company. The swap would do away with several leases in the Thompson Divide in exchange for new leases farther west in Mesa and Rio Blanco counties.
SG, along with Ursa Piceance LLC and the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, has been working to line up political support for that deal, which would require congressional action to carry out.
The company has filed a so-called “notice of staking” with the Bureau of Land Management for the well.
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“A notice of staking is the first step in submitting an application for permit to drill an oil and gas well,” said BLM spokesman David Boyd.
This particular lease is not part of the BLM’s ongoing environmental re-analysis of 64 leases, including those in the Thompson Divide and farther west on the White River National Forest, for which an Environmental Impact Statement is expected this fall.
Boyd said the well pad proposed by SG is in Mesa County within the Wolf Creek Natural Gas Storage Area boundary. The area is not far from Sunlight Mountain Resort near where the Pitkin, Garfield and Mesa county lines come together south of Glenwood Springs.
Were it to drill the site, SG has proposed using Forest Road 300 through Four Mile Park, Garfield County’s Four Mile Road (County Road 117) and Glenwood Springs’ Midland Avenue and 27th Street as a potential haul route to the drilling site.
The city and county have both opposed use of that corridor for an oil and gas industry haul route.
County commissioners have received a request by SG representatives Eric Sanford and Robbie Guinn to “initiate conversations regarding the proposed access route and associated traffic control plans.” The matter is on the agenda for initial consideration during the commissioners’ regular meeting on Monday.
Commissioners have consistently indicated that they are unwilling to waver from their position on Four Mile as a haul route. Glenwood City Council has also continued to stand behind its position with regards to the use of city streets for that purpose.
Sanford was not immediately available Friday for comment.
LEASE DATES TO 1954
Natural gas utility SourceGas operates the Wolf Creek storage area and holds the lease. However, SG Interests has an agreement with SourceGas to develop the lease, Boyd explained.
“The lease dates back to 1954, so it is not included in the BLM’s EIS on previously issued leases, which covers leases issued in 1993 and later,” he said.
The move by SG comes during a week of political maneuvering involving various efforts to line up support for the lease swap, and by the Carbondale-based Thompson Divide Coalition in its continued effort to have the area permanently withdrawn from future leasing in addition to doing away with existing leases.
On Thursday, the TDC finalized an agreement with another leaseholder to adjust the southern boundary of the Thompson Divide area to recognize existing producing leases held by Gunnison Energy LLC.
That company in turn lent its support to pending legislation by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet aimed at supporting efforts to permanently protect public lands in the Thompson Divide from future leasing.
That effort is separate but intricately tied to the lease exchange proposed by SG and Ursa.
Meanwhile, West Slope COGA Executive Director David Ludlam earlier this week criticized Bennet for facilitating efforts in Gunnison and Delta counties to include additional withdrawal areas outside the Thompson Divide as part of the lease swap.
Commissioners from both counties have supported the swap, but contingent on the removal of federal lands in parts of the North Fork Valley west of McClure Pass from future leasing.
Ludlam said his organization supports a straight acre-for-acre type of swap, but opposes any removal of lands from future leasing potential.
He notes that the recently released White River National Forest oil and gas leasing management plan already removes unleased portions of the Thompson Divide area from new leasing over the next 20 years.
Supporters of Bennet’s Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act questioned why SG would apply for a drilling permit for one of the leases proposed as part of the exchange.
“This seems like a pretty big step forward,” said Will Roush, conservation director for the Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale.
“It’s kind of baffling why SG would propose a well there now in the face of a community trying to work with them on this lease exchange,” he said. “It seems to be the exact opposite of good-faith negotiation.”
Zane Kessler, executive director for the TDC, had similar thoughts.
“It’s tough to fathom how this move can be seen as negotiating in good faith, especially while we have a possible resolution on the table in the form of a lease exchange,” Kessler said.
“We’re thankful that the city and county have consistently opposed the use of Four Mile as an oil and gas haul route, and we urge them to stand with their constituents in months to come,” he said.
Boyd said the next step in the drilling application process is for the Forest Service to schedule a site visit with SG Interests, followed by an environmental analysis of the proposal.
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