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Drillers Make a Play for Thompson Divide


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10 May 2013, 1:34 PM
Richly forested lands in W. Colorado could become industrial zone
The Thompson Divide is clearly a keystone of the region, the state and the West.  (EcoFlight)

There is no dispute that the Thompson Divide—a 220,000-acre forested wildland in western Colorado—is a special place. It comprises some of the most valuable and diverse mid-elevation forested landscapes in Colorado and includes the headwaters of streams that sustain the Crystal, Roaring Fork and North Fork valleys. Thompson Divide is a prized destination for recreationists and tourists, and supports a long tradition of ranching. Perhaps most importantly, with no fewer than nine roadless areas, the Divide includes the largest complex of non-Wilderness roadless lands left in Colorado. The Thompson Divide is clearly a keystone of the region, the state and the West.

The debate over the Thompson Divide focuses on its future: should it remain intact, providing the extraordinary ecological and economic values that have benefited local communities and wildlife for generations, or should it be transformed into an industrial zone to produce natural gas for the highest bidder?

This week, attorney Michael Freeman, representing Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, took action to keep the Thompson Divide intact. His petitions to the State Director of the Colorado Bureau of Land Management challenged BLM’s April decisions that extended the lives of 25 oil and gas leases located in the Divide on the White River National Forest. These leases were due to expire this year. Unless BLM’s extensions are reversed, the leases remain alive for at least another year and may yet see development.

Simulated natural gas development along the Thompson Divide. (Skytruth)Simulated natural gas development along the Thompson Divide.  (Skytruth)

If these oil and gas leases, issued during the Bush administration, were drilled and developed, the industrialization of western Colorado over the last decade would reach the heart of the Divide, including extensive portions of designated roadless areas. The heavy truck traffic, spills, and air, water and noise impacts of modern intensive energy development are not compatible with the qualities for which the Thompson Divide is valued.

Fortunately, the leases have sat undeveloped for their entire lifespan. The BLM, which administers all federal onshore mineral rights, including those underlying National Forests, issues leases for a 10-year period. In order to prevent speculation by energy companies, lessees are required to show due diligence in developing the leases during that period. On these leases, the companies have not demonstrated any interest in upholding their end of the bargain.

Incredibly, earlier this year the two companies holding the leases asked BLM to extend the leases by suspending them. Suspension stops the 10-year clock, artificially extending the period that the companies may hold the leases. Despite fierce local opposition, the BLM granted the suspension requests in early April. The suspensions were made on questionable grounds that disregarded directions in BLM's Manual and did not comply with federal law.

When considering the suspension requests, BLM found that the leases had been illegally sold in violation of NEPA. What’s more, the leases were issued without express stipulations requiring compliance with the roadless rule.

Yet, rather than voiding the leases it acknowledges were issued illegally, BLM gave itself one year to figure out what it will do. Wilderness Workshop, with Earthjustice’s help, is now asking the BLM State Director to overturn the suspensions and allow the clock to run out.

The debate over the Thompson Divide focuses on its future. (EcoFlight)The debate over the Thompson Divide focuses on its future.  (EcoFlight)

The effort to keep the Thompson Divide intact has attracted immense support in the region. A coalition of local governments—Pitkin County, Glenwood Springs, and Carbondale—have also filed a challenge to the extension. Groups and individuals such as the Thompson Divide Coalition and Senator Michael Bennet are working to secure long-term protection for this special place. In the meantime, Earthjustice and Wilderness Workshop are working to halt the immediate threats and keep the path to a positive future open for the Divide.

Follow Doug on Twitter at @dpflugh_ej

FRACKING is not DRILLING, it is a most ENVIRONMENTALLY DESTRUCTIVE form of HYDRAULIC MINING at the Sub Surface! Fracking Ruptures and Destroys Large Sections of Sub Surface Strata that make up the Earth’s Crust and Upsets the Equilibrium of surrounding Strata in the Area of the Crust being Fracked. Depending upon the Severity and Frequency of Fracking in a given area, results of related Strata trying to re-establish its Equilibrium will soon be felt by way of disturbances at the Surface in the form of Tremors or worse. We cannot continue to treat this Earth like it’s our PRIVATE, PROFIT GENERATING PLAYGROUND, driven by Sociopathic GREED, without expecting the Earth to retaliate! And this Retaliation will soon be in evidence! The only ones that are for FRACKING, or speak well of it, are those getting paid to do so. And, of course, those Profiting from it! With the money available to the Petroleum Industry, they can, and do, hire enough “Paid Mouths” to make you believe that Fracking is in our best National Interests! The reality being that it is really in the best interests of THEIR “Bottom Line”! How many gallons of water does it take to recover One(1) Cubic Foot of natural gas? Water that must be so super-contaminated by chemicals to make it useable in the Gas Recovery process, as to render it permanently unuseable. Water that will remain so Chemically Corrupted that it will be unfit to flush a toilet. In porous rock, in addition to Dripping Down, this Contaminated Water can also Percolate, or be forced, Upwards into Ground Water and into the Root Systems of Surface Crops and Plants! Animals eating any of these now toxic Plants will suffer some consequences that will be determined at some later date. People eating the meat of these animals will also suffer some, as yet to be determined, health consequences. Where is the USDA on this? One would think that this was in their area of responsibility! One would think! Also if the congress and senate don’t plug up the “Haliburton Loophole”, which was allowed by the Bush/Cheney(Haliburton) mal-Administration, in the “Safe Drinking Water Act”, I suspect that we will run out of Drinkable Water, and only God knows what else, while trying to solve our energy problems and satisfying the insatiable Greed of the “Special Interests”! Politicians seem more than willing to give our Planet away in order to curry favor with the “Special Interests” cabal! Who will be the winner here? I would hazard that there will be None! Except, of course, those who are Profiting from it at the expense of all of us and our Environment! If we continue to Sow as we have, there will be nothing left to Reap! Let alone anyone left to do the Reaping! GREED is not only taking this Country down -if something isn’t done to curtail it, it will soon Wipe Us the Hell Out!

Living right in the midst of the Barnett Shale gas well explosion, I am surrounded by the invisible pollution brought with that - unfortunately, the money they bring in to governments and the cover-up stories they tell to get us to believe they are all about our safety (NOT!) keep people thinking their air and property is safe. But people are dying, houses are sinking, water is polluted, roads are suffering under the weight of the trucks, etc. While all we hear about are jobs, and more and cheaper gas (most of it is shipped to China!). Please carry this message to those who think big oil and gas companies "have our back." All they really have is our gas. Thanks. - FW, TX

Most of the leases in the Barrnett Shale in Fort Worth and surrounding cities are owned by EOG and Chesapeake Energy. Far from Big oil. When I lived in Mansfield and served on the planning a zoning board we put in some of the most restrictive ordinances for the drillers to comply with and they did. Colorado still has not adopted the same set backs and closed loop system requirements. The only thing you state that I agree with is regarding the roads, those trucks do raise havoc with them and that too is a requirement put on the drillers in Mansfield. As far as people dying, houses sinking and polluted water you will need to look elsewhere of find some real bad actors who are not drilling in the metroplex.
While big oil and gas may not appear to have your back you can bet the city and environmentalist do to the power of 3 or more. Companies really just can not behave in a harmful way to the citizens.
I have been to China and would support everything you say, but the U.S is not China.

Most of the leases in the Barrnett Shale in Fort Worth and surrounding cities are owned by EOG and Chesapeake Energy. Far from Big oil. When I lived in Mansfield and served on the planning a zoning board we put in some of the most restrictive ordinances for the drillers to comply with and they did. Colorado still has not adopted the same set backs and closed loop system requirements. The only thing you state that I agree with is regarding the roads, those trucks do raise havoc with them and that too is a requirement put on the drillers in Mansfield. As far as people dying, houses sinking and polluted water you will need to look elsewhere of find some real bad actors who are not drilling in the metroplex.
While big oil and gas may not appear to have your back you can bet the city and environmentalist do to the power of 3 or more. Companies really just can not behave in a harmful way to the citizens.
I have been to China and would support everything you say, but the U.S is not China.

Thanks EJ!! Thompson Divide is a remarkable area, truly too special to drill! As a rule, oil and gas operators should be held to the terms of their leases and not given unjustified/unjustifiable extensions. Especially in places with economic and ecological values as remarkable as the Thompson Divide. In this case, it is appalling that the agency that issued these leases illegally (by their own admission) has opted to keep the leases on the books with suspensions rather than allowing them to expire due to lack of diligent development. Thanks for holding the agency's feet to the fire and working so hard to protect the few remaining places that retain values like the Thompson Divide.

Thanks EJ!! Thompson Divide is a remarkable area, truly too special to drill! As a rule, oil and gas operators should be held to the terms of their leases and not given unjustified/unjustifiable extensions. Especially in places with economic and ecological values as remarkable as the Thompson Divide. In this case, it is appalling that the agency that issued these leases illegally (by their own admission) has opted to keep the leases on the books with suspensions rather than allowing them to expire due to lack of diligent development. Thanks for holding the agency's feet to the fire and working so hard to protect the few remaining places that retain values like the Thompson Divide.

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