Feds cancel energy leases in White River National Forest

A much-anticipated Bureau of Land Management decision to move forward with plans to cancel 25 previously issued but never-developed oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide region met with the usual praise from conservation groups and industry criticism.

The BLM formally released its final environmental impact statement for its review of 65 existing leases on the White River National Forest that were issued over the past 20 years.

The preferred alternative in the document lays a path to cancel the controversial Divide leases that cover a swath of land stretching from Sunlight Mountain Resort southwest of Glenwood Springs, Colorado to McClure Pass south of Carbondale, CO.

It’s a huge victory for the Carbondale-based Thompson Divide Coalition, which has been fighting for years to protect the higher-elevation eastern fringe of the natural gas-rich Piceance Basin from drilling.

The preferred alternative is consistent with the BLM’s earlier-stated intention to cancel the Thompson Divide leases. The final EIS will be open for a 30-day public comment period starting Aug. 5, 2016 and a final decision is expected this fall, the BLM said.

Industry groups have indicated that they will likely challenge any lease cancellations in court. Other groups said the BLM didn’t go far enough in extending protections to other parts of the forest.

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