This is a photo of the site of a proposed drilling rig in Garfield County off of Forest Road 300 about three miles from the Sunlight ski area. SG Interests I, Ltd. submitted the photo to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as part of an application for a drilling permit. The site is at 9729 feet. SG Interests I LTD via COGCC Credit: Source: SG Interests I LTD via COGCC

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Applications from SG Interests I Ltd 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 Garfield County commissioners Tuesday.

Representatives of the BLM, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) 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 commissioner’s work session.

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 was not a good idea.

A red tail hawk soaring near South Thompson Creek, near Carbondale. Credit: Dan Bayer

A local doctor from Basalt, John Hughes, said he was afraid emissions from gas wells are making some of his patients sick.

“There is a problem with public health, and patient health, that is created by some of these components,” Hughes said about volatile organic compounds emitted from gas wells. “Until the health and safety of natural gas is proven, I think you should delay the leases.”

Garfield County Commissioner John Martin responded by noting that Garfield County does not approve or deny the leases on federal land.

Several ranchers from the Crystal River valley – Bill Fales, Will Perry and Paul and Marty Nieslanik – expressed concerns about harm to their grazing land, their water, and their cattle.

“Every well that they’re proposing as of now will effect us,” said Marty Nieslanik, representing the North Thompson Cattleman’s Association. “The wildlife can always leave the area, which they have, and the cattle can’t. We have to stay there and deal with whatever you guys are going to be in there.

“I just hope that you listen to the Division of Wildlife and to the cattleman as a strong voice. Because it’s not only recreation, it’s our livelihood up there and I just hate to see it come in,” Nieslanik said.

Commissioner Martin told Nieslanik that representatives from the Colorado Dept. of Parks and Wildlife sit on the COGCC board and have a role to play in reviewing drilling permit applications to the state.

Will Perry, who has a ranch with his wife in Jerome Park near one of the proposed drill sites, said he has “strong concerns about protecting our water source in this basin.”

Bill Fales owns a ranch on the floor of the Crystal River valley and senior water rights in Thompson Creek and has long-standing grazing permits in the area with other ranchers.

“We feel we’re really at risk,” Fales said of the ranchers who use the area for grazing. “We’re unable to comprehend how our grazing operations, and in fact our ranches, could continue to operate if these drilling proposals move forward.”

Fales recommended that the officials in the room work with SG Interests “to take a step back and work with this community” to find a solution that “will keep this valley as incredibly strong and beautiful as it is today.”

This is a photo of the proposed drilling site in Pitkin County. Credit: SG Interests I Ltd via COGCC

Jim Hawkins, who runs
a bed and breakfast on Four Mile Road, seemed to speak for many in the room when he said the Thompson-Divide area is “not appropriate for a gas field.”

“I like to really impress upon the people sitting in the front of the room here that we need gas, and the county has benefited greatly from a huge amount of gas wells in the western part of the county … but you have a unique area that’s not appropriate for a gas field,” Hawkins said.

“It will hurt everybody here in this room and a lot more people,” Hawkins said. “It will help the gas company. It will help the treasury … I’m not sure I care. It will ruin my business, so I’m a nimbyist from that standpoint. If I’ve got water being hauled up and down my road by huge trucks every five minutes 24-hours-a-day, I’m done. And so’s a lot of other people who live up Four Mile.”

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 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 director of BLM’s Colorado River Valley field office in Silt.

(Here is one of the applications to the BLM. It is for well 8-89-7 #1 in Garfield County, for which an application has also been submitted to the COGCC).

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.”

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This is a map from the BLM that shows the location of some of the wells that SG Interests I Ltd has proposed to drill in Pitkin County in the Thompson-Divide area. (You can zoom in on the map using the slider button in the upper right-hand corner). Source: BLM

SG Interests also has submitted applications to the (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.

Garfield County has posted on its government website copes of the applications SG Interests has made to the state for the well in Garfield County. They include Form 2, which is an application for a drilling permit, and Form 2A, which is an “oil and gas location assessment” form.

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.

This map shows the route that trucks could take to the proposed well in the Garfield County section of the Thompson-Divide area behind the Sunlight ski area. The trucks would go through downtown Glenwood Springs, up Midland Ave., onto Four Mile Road (CR 117) and then on to Forest Road 300.\ Credit: Garfield County via COGCC via SG Interests I Ltd.

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 Tom Jankovsky, who is the general manager of Sunlight Mountain Resort, asked the Forest Service official who had the ability to make the decision about the haul route.

Gross of the USFS replied that various alternative would be analyzed in the NEPA process.

Commissioner Mike Sampson followed up and 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.

Steve Bennett of the BLM stepped in.

“Okay, so I’d probably, generally say we don’t have jurisdiction on county roads as far as our approval process,” he said, sparking applause from the audience.

“That could certainly affect our permitting process if you guys weighed in and said ‘No, we do not want them using county road whatever,’” Bennett added.

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This is a monthly drilling update for Colorado from the COGCC. Source: COGCC

Editor’s note: A version of this story was published in collaboration with the Aspen Daily News on Feb. 6, 2013.

Brent Gardner-Smith

Brent Gardner-Smith, the founder of Aspen Journalism, and who served as AJ’s executive director until August 2021 and as editor from 2011-2020, is the news director at Aspen Public Radio. He's also been...