Bennet proposes Thompson Divide protection from oil/gas leasing
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is garnering praise and criticism after drawing up draft legislation to prevent future federal oil and gas leasing in the Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale.
The measure also would permanently withdraw currently leased areas from further leasing in cases when leaseholders voluntarily relinquish a lease via donation, purchase, exchange or other means.
Bennet’s proposal was cheered by those who have been seeking to protect a 221,000-acre area from the Glenwood Springs area nearly to Paonia Reservoir from oil and gas development.
Peter Hart, an attorney with the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop conservation group, said in an e-mailed announcement that the proposal is “a huge step toward protecting the myriad values that make Thompson Divide unique. It shows the power that one community speaking with one voice can have.”
But David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said that the state’s “oil and gas trade groups stand respectfully but universally opposed to Senator Bennet’s proposal. Making energy permanently off-limits will reduce fuel supplies needed for natural gas vehicles and tomorrow’s electricity needs. We believe the undoable ‘never and forever’ approach to deciding what energy will or won’t be available to the public isn’t sound policy.”
On his website, Bennet indicates the legislation is a starting point for discussions on how to address concerns about possible oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide area.
“I’ve had many productive conversations with local residents, ranchers, advocacy groups and leaseholders that have been focused on finding a way to move forward that works for everyone involved. The draft bill … (is) a result of those conversations, but it’s only the beginning. I’m committed to listening to the input from all Coloradans and I’m looking forward to hearing your comments,” he said.
His proposed Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act of 2012 would apply to about 183,000 federal acres within the area. A group called the Thompson Divide Coalition has been saying the area shouldn’t be drilled due to its watershed, ranching, recreation and other values.