From Peter Hart, Conservation Analyst & Staff Attorney
BLM is playing us for fools on this April 1st. We just heard via industry press release, not from the agency itself, that BLM will extend suspensions of the SG and Ursa leases in the Thompson Divide.
The fact that industry got advance notice from BLM and was able to craft an elaborate press release is just one more example of BLM putting industry before the public. The most significant indicator of that though, is the BLM’s decision to extend the suspensions for two more years.
BLM couldn’t have more overtly snubbed the public than by extending again a bunch of undeveloped, illegal leases in the Thompson Divide. Rather than allowing the leases to naturally expire, BLM continues to hold our community hostage. This decision is just the latest move in BLM’s plan to engineer a situation that can only be resolved by the public footing the bill for their mistakes.
The agency put these leases on life-support last year when it granted the initial suspension. Now the agency has bailed out leaseholders again with another 2-year extension. The agency’s decision was wrong last year and it’s wrong again. These leaseholders have done nothing to justify extension of their leases. We will continue to challenge these unjustified suspension decisions of illegal leases. We know you’ll be right be our side and we’ll keep you posted about how you can help.
… The new, two-year suspensions continue to stop the clock on leases that otherwise could expire after 10 years due to lack of development. None would have expired for at least several months even if the new suspensions hadn’t been granted.
The BLM’s action covered 21,167 acres of SG leases, mostly in Pitkin County, and about 12,000 acres of Ursa leases, the majority of which are in Garfield County …
… The Western Energy Alliance and West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association industry groups praised the suspensions in a joint news release.
“The companies would like to develop natural gas from these leases, but BLM has prevented development for various bureaucratic reasons …” they said.
They cited delays in things such as deciding on whether to group leases into units subject to different development requirements to keep the leases active. These include Ursa’s proposed Wolf Springs Unit in Mesa County, which the industry groups say isn’t far from the Castle Springs Unit where Ursa plans to drill four wells later this year.
… In part because of that move, and “in consideration of comments from interested parties that have asserted the leases were issued in violation of (the National Environmental Policy Act), the BLM has identified a need to remedy a defect at lease issuance,” Steve Bennett, Colorado River Valley Field Office manager for the BLM in Silt, wrote in a letter to SG Interests officials on Monday saying the leases would be extended until April 1, 2016.
The SG leases, along with a similar grouping of leases held by Ursa Piceance LLC that were also due to expire today, were extended in order to allow the BLM adequate time to revisit the environmental review, Bennett wrote in the letter.
That process will ultimately “determine whether the leases should be voided, reaffirmed or subject to additional mitigation measures for site-specific development proposals,” he wrote.
The decision, which was expected to be formally announced by the BLM today, went against the wishes of several local governments and conservation groups that had objected to SG and Ursa requests for the lease extensions.
“We’re not sure why BLM can’t give our administrative appeal the same prompt attention the agency gives to requests from industry, but we are gratified that BLM admits the SG and Ursa leases are illegal, and has launched a process that can cancel them,” said Pitkin County Assistant Attorney Chris Seldin. “Now it’s up to the public to make its voice heard.”
Pitkin County commissioners were joined by the Carbondale Board of Trustees and the Glenwood Springs City Council in opposing the lease extension requests. The Carbondale-based Thompson Divide Coalition and Wilderness Workshop had also opposed the requests.
Thompson Divide Coalition Executive Director Zane Kessler welcomed the decision to launch a retroactive NEPA analysis, calling it “a process that can and should result in the cancellation of illegal leases in the Thompson Divide” …