Senator hears both sides of gas drilling debate

GLENWOOD SPRINGS—Rancher Bill Fales raises beef on land outside Carbondale and sells it to local buyers including the Aspen Skiing Co.

“It’s been a really great business for us. Obviously that will start getting hurt if our cattle start getting sick,” Fales said Monday in explaining his support for protecting 220,000 acres west of Carbondale from oil and gas development and the water pollution he believes could result.

Eric Sanford is operations and land manager for SG Interests, which has oil and gas leases in that area. He says his company already has shown it can safely drill in ranching country in the Muddy Creek area west of McClure Pass.

“I think there’s a lot of fear and I think there’s a lot of misinformation about how this affects ranching,” Sanford said.

On Monday, both sides of the debate over drilling in the Thompson Divide area had their say during a meeting designed to give additional input to U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., on the issue.

Bennet said Colorado, with its abundance of resources, is at the epicenter of a lot of national questions over energy development and must be careful and judicious in how development happens.

“If you have to pick an epicenter of the epicenter, we’re sitting in it right now with this conversation,” he said at Monday’s gathering.

The Thompson Divide Coalition recently offered energy companies about $2.5 million to give up federal Thompson Divide oil and gas leases. The money would pay for direct lease costs such as acquiring and paying rent on them. In conjunction, the group also is calling for federal legislation to retire 43 leases.

However, energy company representatives said the offer falls far short of covering their overall investments in their leases, and the leases’ value.

“Personally I have about $10 million invested in my project and I’ve been offered $61,000 basically to wipe me out,” said Reed Williams, president of WillSource Enterprise.

Several speakers Monday voiced concern about the potential impacts of oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide watersheds.

“Water is the lifeblood of the valley. If the blood gets tainted, everybody suffers,” said Tony Fotopulos, a Glenwood Springs fishing guide.

Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot said the town already has dealt with pollution in the Crystal River as a result of the former Mid-Continent Resources coal mine.

“Living through that with the coal mine, we don’t want to repeat that,” she said.

Brad Robinson, president of Gunnison Energy, which holds some Thompson Divide leases, defended his company’s environmental efforts.

“Our day is spent protecting the air and water, in essence,” he said.


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