Coalition Members Praise “Balanced Solution” for Nation’s Most Visited National Forest
DENVER, CO – Cattlemen, recreational users and local governments praised a final Record of Decision issued by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today which legally canceled 25 undeveloped, improperly-issued oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide area of the White River National Forest.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Governor John Hickenlooper announced the decision along with BLM Director Neil Kornze during a joint press conference at the Colorado State Capitol this morning. The Record of Decision allows for 40 leases in the more prospective center of the Piceance Basin to remain in place.
“BLM has crafted a balanced solution for the Western Slope, and for the many communities, industries and local economies that rely on the White River National Forest” said Jason Sewell, a local rancher and TDC Board Chairman. “This isn’t a zero-sum outcome.”
In response to a draft decision issued last year, BLM received more than 50,000 comments from citizens, stakeholders, and local governments. According to a BLM spokesperson, the “vast majority” of comments supported cancellation of leases in the Thompson Divide area on the White River National Forest.
“We’re pleased to see that this years-long process has reached a conservation-minded end” said Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson. “Our communities have spoken with a unified voice on this issue many times over the years, and it’s good to know that BLM heard our concerns.”
As our nation’s most visited national forest, the White River draws more visitors every year than Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite National Parks combined. And according to independent economic analysis, hunting, ranching and recreational uses in the Thompson Divide support 300 jobs and $30 million in annual economic activity for surrounding communities.
“This decision is critically important for the hundreds of local businesses that rely on public lands in the Thompson Divide. It has a direct impact on my own livelihood and that of our business, our employees and their families” said Rio Jacober, co-founder of Crystal River Meats. “Today’s decision is important for our Western Slope heritage as well. My family has hunted here for generations, I’ve taught my own children to hunt on these public lands, and I hope they will do the same with their kids”.
“This is a gratifying moment for our rural communities and for the overwhelming majority of stakeholders who support this decision” said Zane Kessler, Executive Director of the Thompson Divide Coalition.
Lease cancellation in the Thompson Divide is far from unprecedented. In fact, BLM has previously cancelled leases held by SG interest in the Thompson Divide on two different occasions for similar legal deficiencies.
In accordance with federal law, onshore oil and gas lease contracts incorporate, as terms of the lease, “the Secretary of the Interior’s regulations and formal orders in effect as of lease issuance.” Among the Secretary’s regulations is 43 C.F.R. § 3108.3(d), which provides: “Leases shall be subject to cancellation if improperly issued.”
In a statement today Peter Hart, attorney for Wilderness Workshop, said: “Unfortunately the new plan also does not cancel 40 of the illegal leases and backtracks on important protections that were previously proposed on dozens of the leases. This part of the decision fails to ensure that future development will protect clean air and water, wildlife, and other important values.
“The plan rolls back protections that were proposed as recently as last November for lands in the Willow Creek, Mamm Peak, and Battlement Mesa Roadless Areas. These areas lie within and immediately west of the Thompson Divide, and they are just as ecologically important as the lands where BLM has cancelled leases. They contain abundant wildlife habitat, roadless lands, sensitive fish species, rare plants, and unstable and erosive soils.”
For more information:
The Daily Sentinel:
The Interior Department has decided to cancel 25 oil and gas leases on about 33,000 acres in the Thompson Divide area southwest of Glenwood Springs.
It also has issued a decision full adopting terms of a 2014 settlement agreement resolving litigation over the Roan Plateau management plan. The decision closes nearly 35,000 acres on the plateau top to oil and gas leasing for the life of the plan. The Bureau of Land Management previously canceled 17 leases on the plateau top and reimbursed the leaseholder, Bill Barrett Corp., under other terms of that settlement …
… Ursa Resources owns seven of the leases to be canceled, and SG Interests owns 18. The BLM says it will cost about $1 million to reimburse the companies for what they paid in lease bid and rental fees. About half of that money was distributed by the federal government to the state, which will have to reimburse the federal government for its portion of the canceled leases.
Post Independent: Jewell expects Thompson Divide lease cancellation to stand
… Industry representatives immediately derided the BLM decision and the political nature of the announcement in the waning days of President Obama’s Democratic administration.
Robbie Guinn, vice president of land for SG Interests, which holds some of the Thompson Divide leases, said in a prepared statement that canceling leases constitutes a “taking of private property rights and/or a breach of the lease contracts.”
Guinn said the company will seek relief in the courts, and will be looking to the new Republican administration under President-elect Donald Trump to uphold federal lease contracts.
He said documents obtained by SG and industry groups “clearly show that the retroactive (decision) BLM used to cancel SG’s leases was a predetermined political decision from the Obama administration taking orders from environmental groups.
“SG believes that all 65 of these leases are valid and none should have been cancelled,” Guinn said. “However, if a court finds that all of the leases were improperly issued then all of the leases should have been cancelled” …
… Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky was also on hand for the announcement in Denver.
Though he and the other Republican county commissioners agree that canceling leases is a “taking,” Jankovsky noted that both the city of Glenwood Springs and the town of Carbondale were strongly opposed to drilling in the Thompson Divide.
Other industry representatives, including the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the Western Energy Alliance, have said they are likely to challenge the cancellation of any leases in court. Industry has also been emboldened by a new U.S. Geological Survey report estimating that the Piceance Basin contains about 40 times more natural gas than earlier estimated …