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Letter to Ken Salazar and Tom Vilsack

Letter

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Heeding concerns from local county commissioners and community organizations, Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar calling for more local input and meaningful stakeholder discussions before the Bureau of Land Management makes a decision on the designation of a 32,000-acre parcel of public land for potential oil and gas development. The parcel, which is mostly under the surface jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service, is located predominantly in Colorado's Pitkin and Garfield Counties.

Udall and Bennet believe a viable, consensus-based development plan for the area may emerge and have advocated not to preclude eventual consideration of such a plan.

"Until the communities affected by this proposal have been given adequate time to complete their final discussions on the long term management of this area, we believe it would be premature for your respective agencies to approve the current unitization request covering the so-called "Thompson Divide' acreage," the senators wrote in their letter. "We would ask that you allow for robust and meaningful discussions among all concerned stakeholders, as well as an opportunity for those stakeholders to meet with the Administration, before making a decision on the request."

Full text of the letter follows:

Dear Secretaries Vilsack and Salazar,

We are writing regarding a proposal currently pending before BLM to designate a 32,000-acre parcel of public land (mostly under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service) in Colorado's Pitkin and Garfield Counties, as a single exploratory unit for potential oil and gas development.

The Commissioners of Pitkin County and other local stakeholders argue that the unitization proposal, if granted at this time, may undermine years of discussions by local governments and leaseholders to reach a long-term agreement governing mineral production and conservation of important public lands in this area. Conversely, some of the affected leaseholders argue that promptly granting the unitization request would be the most efficient way to extract the resource in an environmentally-protective manner.

After further discussions between parties, it may well be that a viable, consensus-based development plan for the area may emerge. Our intent, therefore, is not to preclude eventual consideration of such an option. However, given the lack of current local consensus, we believe it is very difficult to gauge if unitization is presently in the public interest (as required under 43 C.F.R. § 3183.4). Until the communities affected by this proposal have been given adequate time to complete their final discussions on the long term management of this area, we believe it would be premature for your respective agencies to approve the current unitization request covering the so-called "Thompson Divide" acreage. We would ask that you allow for robust and meaningful discussions among all concerned stakeholders, as well as an opportunity for those stakeholders to meet with the Administration, before making a decision on the request.

Our offices are beginning active outreach to the relevant stakeholders to facilitate those discussions, including meetings between local community groups and SG Interests (the largest leaseholder represented in the unitization request). In an effort to solve natural resource conflicts by local consensus, rather than years of costly litigation and quarreling as we've seen elsewhere, we are committed to working through discussions with the leaseholders and concerned landowners about the future of this area.

We stand ready to work with the Administration toward the important goal of continued, robust production of clean-burning, domestic natural gas. This production should proceed where it serves the public interest, in areas appropriate for development and in consultation and coordination with local governments and stakeholders. We are hopeful these communities in western Colorado can continue to discuss whether the acreage in question meets these criteria. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Mark Udall, Member, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
Michael F. Bennet, Member, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry


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