GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado — An oil and gas industry group is challenging the very notion that the Thompson Divide area even exists as a geographical region, calling it a "political concept" created by wilderness advocates to prevent development of gas leases in the area west of Carbondale.
The West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association and its member companies whose federal land leases are now under review by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management also say they are preparing to file a "takings" lawsuit if any previously issued gas leases are canceled or modified.
Association executive director David Ludlam wrote in a federal Freedom of Information Act request filed with state BLM officials that the "so-called Thompson Divide Area" evolved after numerous attempts dating back to 2006 to give federal wilderness protections to lower-elevation BLM lands in the region.
Among those efforts was the Hidden Gems campaign, a wilderness proposal promoted by the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, which is now among the groups opposing the continuation of gas leases issued under a 1993 U.S. Forest Service leasing plan.
"It is evident to (association) members that the shifting Thompson Divide Area is a political concept created by wilderness advocates and not an area based on the Thompson Creek watershed or any other biological or geological considerations," Ludlam wrote in the Sept. 11 letter to Deborah Suehr, public information liaison for the BLM in Colorado, seeking agency records.
Ludlam said the BLM now appears to have adopted "arbitrary" boundaries in giving special attention to the Thompson Divide in its decision to review a total of 65 gas leases within the White River National Forest.
Members of the Carbondale-based Thompson Divide Coalition, a group of ranchers, business owners and outdoor recreation enthusiasts who came up with the name when the coalition was organized in 2008 to try to prevent gas drilling in the area, took issue with Ludlam's assertions.
"COGA should know better," said Dorothea Farris, a founding member of the coalition.
"The Thompson Divide was never something designated by the BLM," she said. "It is an area recognized by the citizens who ranch, hunt and live their lives there — the people whose livelihoods are ultimately at stake."
Coalition director Zane Kessler said the current BLM review is an effort to correct mistakes made in issuing the leases in the first place.
"We appreciate that BLM is taking responsibility for past mistakes in the leasing process and working to resolve those errors," Kessler said.
The town of Carbondale has joined with Pitkin County and the city of Glenwood Springs in appealing the BLM's decision to extend leases that were set to expire last year. That decision ultimately led to the BLM's decision to conduct a new analysis of the leases.
The BLM announced in April that it would extend two dozen leases in the Thompson Divide area that were set to expire, and would analyze a total of 65 leases issued under a 1993 U.S. Forest Service Environmental Impact Statement.
The Department of Interior Board of Land Appeals determined the process to issue the leases to be deficient because the BLM did not adopt the Forest Service review or conduct its own review.
As many as 32 leases are within what's commonly referred to as the Thompson Divide, which covers about 221,500 acres stretching from Four Mile Park south of Glenwood Springs to the Huntsman Ridge area near McClure Pass.
Two leaseholders, SG Interests and Ursa Resources Group, have test well development proposals before the BLM that are now on hold pending the broader lease review.
Information from: Post Independent, http://www.postindependent.com/
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