An industry led proposal could bring some resolution to the Thompson Divide conflict, but local environmentalists are not celebrating wildly. While the proposal would drop the gas leases owned by SG Interests and Ursa Resources in Thompson Divide area, it would give the gas companies an equal amount of land and leases in parts of Mesa, Gunnison, Delta and Rio Blanco counties. The leases were controversial from the beginning because the 25 leases approved by the Bureau of Land Management never went through a proper environmental review.
The gas companies would benefit from the deal, because the new area has proven reserves and is near existing pipelines, while the Thompson Divide leases are speculative and would need to have infrastructure (roads and pipelines) built. Garfield and Rio Blanco counties have already expressed their support of the deal in letters to Senators Bennett and Gardner and Representative Tipton.
The executive director of the Thompson Divide Coalition, Zane Kessler, said, "We're being cautious. We're not interested in creating any problems on the other side of McClure Pass." Officially, the Thompson Divide Coalition made the following statement: . “This is an important first step for a process that could result in the retirement of undeveloped leases in the Thompson Divide. 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.”
The gas companies lost much access to the area when the Forest Service decided to halt future leasing in the White River National Forest in December. The Bureau of Land Management is expected to make a decision on the lands they administer soon. With the low price of gas and oil, there is little surprise the gas companies are looking for better alternatives than the Thompson Divide area.
A conservation nonprofit out of Delta County, Citizens for a Healthy Community, released a statement “We just learned of the proposal. We plan to analyze the details of it carefully to make sure that it’s bringing enduring, meaningful protections and not creating new problems. Communities on both sides of McClure Pass cherish our public lands. … Folks in the North Fork Valley stand together with our neighbors in the Crystal River and Roaring Fork valleys. We look forward to reviewing the proposal, and continuing to work for the protection that all these important public lands deserve.”