Appeal asks state BLM director to let leases expire
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — Conservation advocates are challenging a decision by the Bureau of Land Management to extend the life of several oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide area of Colorado’s White River National Forest.
“Sometimes BLM needs to just say no to the oil and gas industry,” said Earthjustice attorney Michael Freeman. “If we can’t keep energy development out of a place like the Thompson Divide, what part of Colorado is safe? We can meet our energy needs in responsible fashion without destroying our most important public lands,” Freeman said.
The Thompson Divide covers more than 200,000 acres near Carbondale, Colorado, and includes no fewer than nine different roadless areas. The Divide consists primarily of mid-elevation forest lands that provide important habitat for a variety of wildlife and threatened plant species. The area is also an important part of the region’s ranching and recreational economy.
In late March, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced legislation that would withdraw unleased public minerals in the area from future oil and gas development while preserving existing private property rights for current leaseholders. It also creates an opportunity for existing leases to be retired should they be donated or sold by willing owners. The bill was drafted at the request of local governments and following a series of conversations Bennet held with leaseholders, elected officials, and community leaders.
The BLM issued a series of oil and gas leases blanketing the Thompson Divide during the Bush Administration, including the 25 leases at issue in the appeal, spread across a big chunk of the Thompson Divide and in designated roadless areas.
The leases are due to expire this year, but the two companies holding the leases asked BLM to extend the lives of the leases by suspending them. Suspension stops the 10-year clock, artificially extending the period that the companies may hold the leases.
Specifically, the appeal says the BLM failed to follow its own regulations when it approved the suspension.
“Suspending the leases was wrong,” said Peter Hart of Wilderness Workshop. “BLM bailed out these two companies by extending leases that it admits were issued in violation of the law and that hadn’t been diligently developed. The decision doesn’t comply with agency regulations, snubs the existing values and uses in the Divide, and ignores the will of local communities and the thousands of people from around the nation who asked BLM to let the illegal leases expire.”
When considering the suspension request, BLM found that the leases were sold in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.
“BLM should hold the energy companies to the terms of their lease contracts,” said Freeman. “It’s the right thing to do legally, and it’s the right result for the Thompson Divide.”