Thompson Divide SNAFU

This map shows the adjusted legislative boundary of the Thompson Divide area following an agreement with Gunnison Energy. [Source: Thompson Divide Coalition]

This map shows the adjusted legislative boundary of the Thompson Divide area following an agreement with Gunnison Energy. [Source: Thompson Divide Coalition]

SNAFU = Situation Normal: All Fucked Up

Last week the Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC) agreed to remove about 10,000 acres in Gunnison County from the proposed Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act.

The map above shows the acreage on southern boundary of the Thompson Divide (located in Gunnison County) that will no longer be considered for protection.

The Thompson Divide area covers 221,500 acres of federal land in Pitkin, Garfield, Gunnison, Mesa and Delta counties. The 61 current leases in the area cover approximately 105,000 acres. The legislation, introduced by Senator Bennet in 2013, would withdraw unleased minerals in the area from future oil & gas development and preserve existing property rights for current leaseholders. Lease owners would also be able to retire existing leases. However, the bill has garnered little support from either party and languished in no-man’s land since its introduction.

Stakeholders involved in last week’s negotiations included Thompson Divide Coalition, Gunnison County, Trout Unlimited, and Gunnison Energy, a division of the Oxbow Group of Companies which is owned by William Koch. They are the second largest lease holder in the Thompson Divide. SG Interests is the largest. Ursa is the only other leaseholder with about 12,000 acres.

Gunnison Energy has already developed gas leases and has ongoing gas operations within the requested withdrawal zone. The request for the boundary change has been submitted to Senator Bennet who has already publicly praised the proposal.

Aspen Daily News: Oil industry, conservation compromise on Divide
Boundary would be altered to allow existing production to continue

Post Independent: Negotiations lead to Thompson Divide boundary adjustment

Aspen Daily News: Bennet: Industry, conservation agreement to be included in bill
Stakeholders adjust proposed protection area to get energy company on board

Of course WSCOGA’s executive whiner dissed the agreement.

David Ludlum, executive director of the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association (WSCOGA), said there have been far too many alterations to the boundaries of Bennet’s proposed protection act.

“One of the things that [WSCOGA] has been critical of is that the boundary of the Thompson Divide has been changed a number of times,” Ludlum said Thursday.

He questioned just how sacred the lands are when the players are willing to “modify the conditions just to gain support.”

Now this is where the whole thing gets confuzzled. All of the articles above mention the lease exchange, or lease swap, which has absolutely nothing to do with Gunnison Energy, or the requested boundary change, or the TD Withdrawal and Protection Act. The lease swap is a whole different deal – different players, different land parcels.

The lease swap got stirred into the soup is because WSCOGA and SG Interests are having a hissy fit over the fact that nobody invited them to the party.

So how did SG Interests exact their revenge?

During the negotiations last week, they filed a Notice of Staking with the BLM, the first step in their application to construct a road (200 to 400 feet) and drill a well (9,000 feet deep) in the Wolf Creek natural gas storage area (operated by SourceGas), near Sunlight Mountain Resort. Adding fuel to the fire, that area is specifically designated in the proposed lease swap as acreage, and the mineral rights below it, that SG would be willing to exchange for leases in the North Fork Valley.

Ludlam dropped that bomb last week when asked to comment on the proposed boundary change, which in turn generated seismic outrage from the TDC.

The Thompson Divide Coalition deemed the filing as “not the Western Slope Way.”

“We’re very disappointed in SG,” said Zane Kessler, executive director of the coalition. “They know darn well how inflammatory this filing will be for the communities in and around Glenwood Springs.”

“This isn’t a game of Texas Hold’em, and our local economy should not be used as a gambling chip for risky bets being made in a Houston board room,” he wrote in an email to the Aspen Daily News on Friday. “It’s tough to fathom how this move can be seen as negotiating in good faith — especially while we have a possible resolution on the table in the form of a lease exchange.”

Actually this IS the West Slope Way. This is what the industry does. This is exactly how they operate. This is why negotiations between industry players and environmental groups and local governments don’t work. (Are you paying attention COGCC?) The West Slope Way is the operators ALWAYS get their way. Even in the boundary change agreement, did you notice how Gunnison Energy got what they wanted? Well of course they did.

Now SG Interests is stomping their feet and demanding their way. It’s like herding toddlers. TDC’s Kessler grouses about “negotiating in good faith.” He should know by now there is no such thing as “good faith” when dealing with O&G operators. But no one ever listens to me.

Rewind to the lease exchange

Last April, SG Interests and Ursa Resources proposed trading leases in the Thompson Divide for acreage elsewhere in northwest Colorado. Yup. The lease swap was THEIR idea. Under the proposal, SG would trade about 30,000 acres of leases in the TD for about 30,000 acres on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest, southwest of McClure Pass in the North Fork Valley. At the same time, Ursa proposed trading approximately 12,000 acres in the TD for a similar amount in Rio Blanco County. The proposal has not yet been agreed upon by all stakeholders, and was considered to be still under negotiation — until SG just blew that up.

Daily Sentinel: Energy firm to drill on 1954 lease on Thompson Divide

Aspen Daily: Amid negotiations, oil and gas company moves to drill
SG Interest to revive debate over haul route through Glenwood Springs

Post Independent: SG presses for Thompson Divide drilling

If you aren’t marinating in BTEXS like I am, you might not be able to see what’s really going on here.

SG Interests pulled a sleight-of-hand. Evidently they also want the Wolf Creek unit to be excluded from protection and they plan to use the Gunnison Energy proposal as precedence. SG will claim the Wolf Creek area is already being developed and contains existing gas operations – because they just initiated those operations. They will then withdraw the Wolf Creek unit from the lease swap and demand a deal similar to Gunnison Energy’s boundary change. The three lease holders will whittle away at the Thompson Divide boundaries until all that’s left is what they decide to leave alone (see Roan Plateau).

The next step in SG’s drilling application process includes a site visit with the Forest Service and an environmental analysis, which could take a year or more.

That’s not the end – this is

SG Interests wasn’t satisfied with pissing in TDC’s cornflakes. Nossir. They took aim at Garfield County and the city of Glenwood Springs, too.

In a memo to Kirby Wynn, GarCo O&G liaison, SG requested a discussion about the use of Four Mile Road (CR 117) as the access route to the Wolf Creek site. Four Mile Road is the most direct route to the Wolf Creek site and to Sunlight Mountain Resort. Use of Four Mile Road would also entail truck traffic on Midland Avenue and the 27th Street roundabout, a haul route the county and city have previously firmly denied. In other words, SG knows better.

Wynn conveyed the request to the BOCC at Monday’s meeting (8/3). As the General Manager of Sunlight Mountain Resort, Commissioner Tom Jankovsky was the first to speak up in opposition to even discussing SG’s proposed haul route. No one from SG Interests was there to discuss it anyway.

Commissioners Martin and Samson fell right in line, confirming that Four Mile Road is not a preferred haul route.

County reiterates: ‘4 Mile Road is not a haul route’

Click here to see map of “Garfield County Preferred Haul Routes” (How’s that for non-legally binding terminology?)

And what is the preferred haul route to the Wolf Creek unit?

Why, it’s the back door to Sunlight via Divide Creek (CR 311 and 313) south of Silt.

I watched the meeting. So seldom do the commissioners get all uppity over O&G issues it was worth the waste of my time. Usually they bend over backwards. But they’re a lot braver when no one from the industry is in the room. The commissioners do have their sacred cows, like Four Mile Road and Sunlight Mountain Resort. It was interesting to see where these commissioners draw the line when it comes to O&G issues – at the doorstep to Glenwood Springs.

I guess they must sleep better at night knowing they have protected the citizens from Glenwood Springs to Carbondale from the scourge of O&G truck traffic by putting it where they think it belongs – in Silt.

As a long-time resident of Silt who derives no benefit whatsoever from O&G development — only sickness, bad water, air pollution, and truck traffic – I find it disturbing that the commissioners have drawn such a distinct line between Garfield County and Western Garfield County.

I remind them and everyone else in the county that their line is invisible. Sickness, bad water, air pollution, and even truck traffic respect no lines, know no boundaries.

I hate to say “I told you so” but …

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