Unitization request should be opened up for public review | PostIndependent.com

Unitization request should be opened up for public review

Post Independent Opinion
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

The controversy surrounding natural-gas drilling in the Thompson Divide area does not lend itself to easy solutions or ready options, when taken as a whole.

But for one specific question – whether the Bureau of Land Management should quietly and routinely grant a “unitization” request for 32,000 acres of the area – there actually is an easy answer.

And that answer is no, at least as things currently stand. The unitization request and process should be fully opened up for public review before BLM makes its decision.

A Texas-based energy company, SG Interests, has asked the BLM to lump 31 leases together into what is known as a federal unit.

That would mean that instead of being regulated as individual leases, with looming expiration dates and the various governmental hurdles usually faced by the industry, the company’s holdings would be viewed as a single, large parcel.

A big advantage to the company would be that it could sink a well into the ground and, if it did not hit gas, sink another – and another, and another, until the gas deposit is reached, without worrying about expiration dates on specific leases.

The gas industry maintains that this method is more environmentally sound, because it can reduce disturbance of the surface areas involved.

But skeptics say unitization leaves open the question of whether one well will be drilled, or many, and whether the disturbance to the land, water and wildlife will be minimal or massive.

Typically, a unitization request is reviewed internally by BLM officials, with little to no public involvement.

That is the way the industry and, following a decision made on Oct. 24, the Garfield County commissioners believe it should remain.

But others, including Colorado’s two U.S. senators, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, believe the process should be opened up to enable open dialogue between “stakeholders” before any decision is made.

We agree, but suggest that the definition of “stakeholders” should not be limited to the gas companies, the county governments, the state government and the feds.

We include the public as a stakeholder, probably the most important stakeholder of all, because it is the public whose land is targeted for disruption. And by “public” we mean community members and groups such as the Thompson Divide Coalition, who have been actively working on the drilling issue.

There is much at stake with the Thompson Divide leases and the unitization request, and BLM should give the public a fair hearing before making its decision.

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