Exchange proposed in Thompson Divide dispute over development; US, county to review plan

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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado — Environmentalists are waiting to see the details after an exchange of oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide region for leases on public lands elsewhere in western Colorado was offered as a solution to a longstanding dispute over drilling.

The deal is being put forward by two energy companies, SG Interests and Ursa Operating Co., which together hold about two dozen undeveloped federal oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide.

Those leases are currently being reviewed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as part of a larger analysis of 65 leases in the southern White River National Forest straddling Garfield, Pitkin and Mesa counties, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent reported ( ). Garfield County commissioners are scheduled to consider a letter of support for the deal on Monday.

The proposal urges Colorado members of Congress to carry legislation supporting a lease exchange, which could resolve the issues and leave the already largely undeveloped 221,000-acre Thompson Divide area untouched.

"This could be a very positive step on both sides, and hopefully there will be room to negotiate and move this forward," Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.

Zane Kessler, executive director for the Thompson Divide Coalition, which has been working for years to acquire or have the Thompson Divide leases retired, said he still wants to see the details.

As proposed, SG Interests would give up 18 federal leases and other interests in the Thompson Divide area, including the Wolf Creek rights where a natural gas compressor station exists, for leases covering about the same amount of land, 30,000 acres, in Delta and Mesa counties on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests.

Ursa would give up its seven leases covering about 12,000 acres in the Thompson Divide for a similar amount of acreage on the White River National Forest in Rio Blanco County.

Don Simpson of Ursa said the potential settlement should please those who want to preserve the Thompson Divide area. SG Interests' regional representative Eric Sanford could not be reached for comment.

Information from: Post Independent,

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