Pitkin County eyes re-starting drilling regs discussion even as industry litigation looms

The Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale (photo from Thompson Divide Coalition).

The Pitkin County commissioners have rekindled the idea of taking a much tougher regulatory stance on natural gas drilling in the Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale, according to the Aspen Times.

The commissioners want to augment certain state requirements by demanding more financial security for environmental cleanup measures in the event of spills or leaks associated with natural gas production. A year ago, the board of commissioners backed off in its review of tough new regulations because of the potential for litigation.

That scenario still seems likely given that the company holding the majority of oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide area, Houston-based SG Interests, is currently suing Gunnison County over its regulations.

A community activist group called the Thompson Divide Coalition has been pushing to see most of the federal lands in the area – more than 220,000 acres – excluded from future oil and gas development.

Pitkin County in the past has tried to get the federal government to sign onto an overall drilling ban in the 2.3 million-acre White River National Forest, arguing the essentially industrial process is incompatible with a tourism and resort-based economy.

“[The tougher county regulations] just kind of got stalled out,” Cindy Houben, head of the county’s Community Development Department, told the Times. “It’s hard to make a move in the direction we want to make a move in without having controversy. At some point, we just need to move forward.”

SG Interests has filed an application with the Bureau of Land Management to use its 16 leases in the area. A Denver attorney for SG said of the proposed new regulations: “Pitkin County’s proposed ordinance is perhaps the most far-reaching, if not to say over-reaching, example of local oil and gas regulations that I have seen.”