29 Apr Could The Lease Swap be an Opportunity?
April 29, 2015 –
The devil will be in the details, but a positive outcome may be possible.
A few weeks ago, news broke about a proposed legislative swap of oil and gas leases that, if passed, would result in Texas-based drilling company SG Interests giving up lease holdings in the Thompson Divide in exchange for acquiring new leases on National Forest lands in Delta, Mesa, and Gunnison counties.
This idea was proposed by SG Interests. We did not ask for this. If this proposal proceeds without significant benefits to the North Fork Valley, we will fight it tooth and nail.
While the initial proposal is worrisome on its face, it also presents an opportunity for the North Fork Valley community to get something that we have long sought after – enduring protections for the valley’s public lands and tighter controls on oil and gas development where and when it does occur.
Click here to view a map of the mineral rights that SG Interests seeks to acquire, which straddle the Delta and Mesa county line. This map was provided to Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC) by Delta County.
SG Interests has approached County Commissioners in the five affected counties (Delta, Gunnison, Mesa, Garfield, and Rio Blanco) requesting general letters of support for the idea. The first proposal that SG Interests made to the Garfield County Commission on Monday, April 6th, resulted in some cautious statements from our friends on the other side of McClure Pass, as reported in the Aspen Daily News:
The Carbondale-based Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC) released a statement about the proposal Monday.
“This is an important first step for a process that could result in the retirement of undeveloped leases in the Thompson Divide,” the statement says. “If the industry’s proposal does move forward, it will be imperative that counties on the receiving end of this exchange, and their constituents, have a seat at the table.”
Zane Kessler, TDC’s executive director, said in an interview that many of the parcels the extraction companies would be acquiring are adjacent to producing mineral leases, and some infrastructure such as roads are already in place.
But it’s very early in the process, he stressed, and more information and comment is needed from those who may be affected by the land swap.
“We’re being cautious,” Kessler said. “We’re not interested in creating any problems on the other side of McClure Pass.”
SG was able to get a general letter of support from the Garfield County Commissioners, that states “we also acknowledge the developed leases will impact GMUG counties,” meaning Mesa, Delta, and Gunnison. SG has submitted a draft letter to the Gunnison County Commissioners for consideration as well.
On Monday, April 20th, SG was in Delta to ask for a letter of support, and about 50 folks from the North Fork Valley showed up to learn more and voice their concerns about the proposal. After the presentation from SG Interests, Chairman Mark Roeber said “We aren’t willing to make a decision on a letter yet.”
Mike Drake, the current president of the Paonia Chamber of Commerce, asked the Commissioners to make sure that all parties “have a seat at the table” when discussing SG’s proposal. Mike added, “It offers nothing for folks in the North Fork Valley.”
Mike is right. The initial proposal offers nothing for the North Fork. The initial proposal is what the drilling company wants. But we are hopeful that Delta County and our elected leaders will turn this into an opportunity, and work with the community, to obtain lasting protections for the North Fork Valley.
Like I said at the Delta Commissioner’s meeting on Monday, the initial proposal from SG is not something that we can support.
Here are the kinds of things we at CHC need to see to take a proposal like this seriously:
- A mineral withdrawal of unleased lands and public minerals across the North Fork Valley, including unleased portions of the National Forest;
- Removing leases from roadless areas and other sensitive public lands; and
- Requiring strict best management practices and community supported oversight and standards where drilling does occur.
Make no mistake, we will vigorously oppose any lease swap that does not offer meaningful protections for the North Fork Valley.
CHC and many others in the valley will be following and engaging in this process very closely and with great care. You can count on CHC to continue to press for protecting what we care about–our water supplies, the North Fork’s scenic backdrop, excellent recreation opportunities, important wildlife habitat, the list goes on and on.
The lands that SG Interests hopes to acquire are open for leasing in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, Gunnison National Forest management plan, and they have been nominated for leasing according to SG Interests. We haven’t seen these expressions of interest posted yet, which is what officially starts the leasing process. But there’s potential that these lands will be put up for leasing by the BLM (which manages the minerals) at some point down the road.
We know what it’s like to fight these proposals–remember the still-deferred 30,000 acre lease sale?–and we are prepared to fight again when we need to. But for now, we believe there’s an opportunity to get long-lasting protections for the North Fork Valley’s public lands and more constraints on the oil and gas development that does occur by working with our Commissioners and other elected officials.
And like with the 30,000 acre lease sale, we will need the community’s help. Some 3,000 people and groups wrote letters the first time the lease sale was proposed, and dozens filed an official protest the second time.
You wrote the letters, made the phone calls, showed up at public meetings. You put in the time and energy to win. We will continue to pursue every available option to protect the North Fork’s public lands, and to be successful, we need you to stand with us again.
By Jim Ramey, Executive Director of Citizens for a Healthy Community. The above photo is of the Gunnison National Forest along a marked trail near the acreage proposed for the lease swap. Photo credit: Doug Gill. This article has been cross-posted at www.NorthForkValley.org.