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Colorado BLM backs extending Thompson Divide gas leases; appeal to national board likely

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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is upholding its decision to extend the leases for 25 oil and gas wells in the Thompson Divide while it studies the environmental impacts of drilling there.

The state BLM office announced the decision Monday, backing a ruling from its area field office in March.

Pitkin County commissioners, the Carbondale town board and the Glenwood Springs City Council oppose extending the leases for SG Interests and Ursa Resources south of Glenwood Springs. They likely will appeal to the U.S. Interior Board of Land Appeals in Washington.

Assistant Pitkin County attorney Chris Selden told the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (http://bit.ly/1mhqDcM ) that opponents will have a greater chance of succeeding through an appeal.

"It's more like a hearing in front of a court, and I believe the IBLA will look very hard at our arguments calling for letting these leases expire," he said.

The leases were issued in 2003 and originally set to expire in 2013. Twice the BLM has approved what it calls a "suspension of operations" for the leases, stopping the clock on them, because it didn't conduct its own environmental study of the impacts of drilling on the land in the White River National Forest. The leases are now set to expire in 2016.

"The Colorado River Valley Field Office correctly observed that suspension is generally the BLM's initial and preferred first step in remedying a procedural fault in issuing a federal and oil gas lease ..." Lonny Bagley, the BLM's deputy state director for energy, lands and minerals, wrote in an Aug. 14 decision letter.

Bagley said the decision will not predetermine its environmental analysis.

Pitkin County, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs leaders must vote on whether to pursue an appeal. Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop also challenged the lease suspensions and could also appeal.


Information from: Post Independent, http://www.postindependent.com/

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