Thompson Divide Coalition ponies up $2.5 million to entice oil, gas companies to stay away

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenFebruary 24, 2012

A coalition of groups in and around Carbondale is proposing a settlement that would reimburse companies who own natural gas leases in the Thompson Divide area in exchange for retiring 43 leases currently in question and protecting the area from future energy development.

The Thompson Divide Coalition sent a letter to six companies that own undeveloped natural gas leases Tuesday offering to reimburse any direct investments to date, which it estimated at $2.5 million.

Thompson Divide

"We believe this is a reasonable proposition," Thompson Divide Coalition President Chuck Ogilby said in a prepared statement Wednesday. "It acknowledges the investments these companies have made, and gives them a way to support an initiative that has broad community support."

The disbursement of funds would be contingent on Congress passing legislation that would prevent energy development in Thompson Divide, made up of White River and Gunnison National Forests.

Companies with a stake in the area currently include SG Interests, Encana Oil & Gas, Willsource Enterprises LLC & Partners, Falcon Seaboard Oil & Gas LLC, Gunnison Energy Corp. and Antero Resources.

An Encana spokesperson said the company is reviewing the letter.

Representatives from the other companies could not be reached.

The Thompson Divide Coalition is composed of ranchers, environmentalists, local governments and other local residents. The group said it hopes its good-faith resolution puts the question of whether to drill in the area to rest.

"We've said all along that we want to protect these lands in a way that compensates the leaseholders for their investments," Ogilby said.

Last fall, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar calling for “robust and meaningful” stakeholder input before the Bureau of Land Management decides whether to let oil companies bundle federal lands where it holds leases that are set to expire in 2013 into a specially designated unit.

The Thompson Divide area covers 221,500 acres of federal land in Pitkin County, Gunnison County, Garfield County, Mesa County and Delta County. Local officials say energy companies hold 81 leases in the area spanning about 105,000 acres. Half of the leases are in roadless areas.

Environmentalists and other interested parties have been calling for U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., to help broker a deal with the energy companies in Thompson Divide, where there is a vigorous anti-drilling sentiment. Oil and gas companies are major donors to Tipton's re-election campaign.

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