Post Independent Staff
Opposition to unitization wins support of Sens. Bennet, Udall
In particular, opponents of large-scale drilling in the area raised objections to an application by SG Interests to “unitize” 18 leases, encompassing roughly 32,000 acres of mineral rights, in a proposed roadless area known as the Lake Ridge section.
Thompson Divide itself encompasses approximately 220,000 acres of remote and relatively undeveloped terrain, including the divide between Thompson Creek, which flows into the Crystal River, and West Divide Creek, which flows into the Colorado south of Silt.
According to attorney Peter Hart of the Wilderness Workshop, 13 of SG Interests’ leases in the Thompson Divide area are set to expire in 2013.
Unitization is a federal process for combining certain mineral lease holdings by one or more companies into a single management unit.
That would allow SG Interests to maintain the leases “for the foreseeable future,” Hart told the Aspen Times in June, explaining that he believes the company wants to prolong the life of the leases through the unitization process.
Robin Guinn, a vice president for SG Interests, countered in a letter to the editor published on June 30 that the company has a reputation for being “environmentally responsible” in its drilling activities in western Colorado.
He maintained that the unitization process is the least potentially harmful way of drilling in the Thompson Divide. It would minimize disturbance and maximize production of gas from fewer wells.
“In no way does the unitization process short-circuit any federal requirements for gas exploration and development on public lands,” Guinn declared in his letter.
A group of activists based in Carbondale, the Thompson Divide Coalition, is fighting the unitization proposal as well as the entire idea of further gas exploration in Thompson Divide.
The coalition is made up of environmentalists, ranchers and recreationists, and hopes to protect the entire area from development of 81 mineral leases covering approximately 105,000 acres.
In support of the TDC’s goals, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking that the unitization request be delayed and the process be opened up to more comment by the stakeholders involved.
Numerous area governments have sent letters of support for the TDC’s goals, including both Pitkin and Garfield counties, although the Garfield Board of County Commissioners also called on the BLM to move forward with the unitization process as required under federal law.
SG Interests, along with its supporters in the region, is pressing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which handles unitization on federal lands, to get on with the process and grant the request.
As of early December, the BLM had not set a timeline for review of the request.