GLENWOOD SPRINGS — An outpouring of residents opposed to natural gas drilling in the Thompson Divide showed up in droves on Tuesday during a public hearing in front of the Garfield County commissioners urging their elected officials to stop the effort.
Representatives of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) outlined their review processes for the commissioners and about 75 members of the public in attendance at a county commissioners’ work session.
Applications from SG Interests to drill nine gas wells in the Thompson Divide area will be reviewed by federal, state and county governments and the process will take at least two years, according to a panel of officials in front of the commissioners.
The officials, along with the trio of commissioners, also heard loud and clear from 30 of the citizens at the meeting that drilling for gas in the Thompson Divide area is not a good idea.
Jim Hawkins, who runs a bed and breakfast on Four Mile Road, seemed to speak for many in the room when he said “You have a unique area that is not appropriate for a gas field.”
Sparking the comments was the reality that SG Interests has submitted applications to the BLM since October for permission to drill six wells on five locations on relatively pristine U.S. Forest (USFS) land to the southwest of Carbondale.
One of the gas wells would be drilled horizontally, according to Eric Sanford, the operations and land manager for SG Interests’ Colorado office.
The BLM is conducting an initial screening of the six applications but has yet to deem any of them complete and ready for further review, according to Steve Bennett, the field director of BLM’s Colorado River Valley office in Silt.
SG also expects to soon submit three more applications to the BLM for permission to drill a total of nine wells on eight drill pads in the Thompson Divide.
Once the BLM deems all the applications complete, it will bring the USFS in to conduct a review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.
Jason Gross, a USFS natural resource specialist, said it would take “at least two years” to complete the NEPA process.
“Before the (application) is approved, we will have a thorough NEPA environmental process that will be very transparent, open to the public,” Gross said. “This isn’t our first rodeo. We’ve got wells throughout the forest and we’re going to do this one just like we’ve done all the other ones.”
SG Interests also has submitted applications to the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission (COGCC) for two of the wells — one in Garfield County and one in Pitkin County — and plans to submit more.
The state’s review process typically takes 75 days, said David Kubeczko, an oil and gas location assessment specialist with the COGCC.
But he said these applications will require an on-site visit which can not be completed until the snow melts in the spring.
“My guess is that both of these permits will be extended — there won’t be a final decision until there has been an on-site by us and [Colorado] Parks and Wildlife and, of course, the federal agencies,” Kubeczko said.
Comments to the state on the application to drill in Garfield County are due Feb. 23 and comments on the proposed Pitkin County site are due Feb. 24.
Pitkin County officials have asked the state for a 10-day extension of the comment period.
Of the six wells currently under review by the BLM, one is in Garfield County and five are in the northwestern corner of Pitkin County.
Sanford, of SG Interests, met last week with Pitkin County planners and intends to submit formal land-use applications to the county.
The Pitkin County process entails a one-step public hearing before the board of county commissioners, according to Ellen Sassano, a long-range planner with the county.
At Tuesday’s work session, the Garfield County commissioners focused on the truck “haul route” to the drill sites, which would go up Four Mile Road, past the Sunlight Ski Area, and on to the farthest reaches of Forest Road 300.
Commissioner Mike Sampson asked the officials who had the “ultimate authority” over the haul route.
“Do you have the right as the Forest Service and the United States government to say that the haul route will go down Four Mile and will go through the town of Glenwood Springs?” Sampson asked.
Bennett, of the BLM, stepped in and said the BLM does not have jurisdiction over county roads.
“That could certainly affect our permitting process if you guys weighed in and said ‘No, we do not want them using county road whatever,’” he added.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is an independent nonprofit news organization collaborating with the Aspen Daily News on coverage of Pitkin County.