Study: Thompson Divide’s economic impact $30 million

A group seeking to protect a 220,000-acre area from oil and gas development says drilling would threaten some $30 million in annual economic activity occurring there now.

The Thompson Divide Coalition on Wednesday said the economic benefit was determined in a study that also finds nearly 300 jobs are supported by existing uses of the primarily national forest running roughly from Glenwood Springs to McClure Pass, and west of Carbondale.

The coalition’s executive director, Zane Kessler, said in a teleconference that the study shows that the local economy and people’s livelihoods are tied to the undeveloped landscape of the Thompson Divide.

“The proposed (oil and gas) development in our opinion is simply incompatible with the existing uses,” Kessler said.

More than 100,000 of the acres at issue have been leased for drilling. The coalition has been seeking to stop it through means such as offering to buy companies’ leases and pursuing federal legislation.

Specifically, the study by BBC Research in Denver found that backcountry recreation in the Thompson Divide supports 138 jobs and $12.6 million in economic output. Hunting and fishing support 92 jobs and $8.3 million in economic output, and grazing, 64 jobs and $11 million.

Glenwood Springs City Council member Leo McKinney said oil and gas exploration would drive away tourists his city relies on.

“Many of our restaurants proudly serve locally raised beef that grazes up there on the Thompson Divide,” he added.

Opponents to drilling in the area fear it could lead to contamination of watersheds relied on by cattle, wildlife and communities.

Auden Schendler, an Aspen Skiing Co. vice president, said drilling on the Thompson Divide is “like burning the furniture to heat the house.”

“Over the long term this is a sustainability economy we’re talking about, it’s a recreation-based economy. In theory we could keep going on like this forever. We have a golden goose here; why would we kill it?”

David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, responded, “We reject their fundamental assumption that responsible energy development can’t coincide with other uses.”

Agriculture, tourism and recreation long have coexisted with energy development in other places such as La Plata County, he said.

One Thompson Divide leaseholder, WillSource Enterprise, LLC, has estimated its leases alone might generate $1.5 billion in revenue.

Ludlam contends that people who use the most energy — such as in big homes in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley — have the least tolerance for the infrastructure that delivers it.

“We’re going to do everything we can to try to remedy that through education about where energy comes from,” he said.


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