Garfield hedges support for group against drilling

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Garfield County commissioners said Tuesday they continue to support efforts to protect 220,000 acres west of Carbondale from oil and gas development, but they emphasized the qualified nature of that support.

Commissioners, meeting with their counterparts from Pitkin County, said it needed to be made clear that their previous resolution in support of efforts of the Thompson Divide Coalition specified that any protections must safeguard the rights of existing holders of oil and gas leases. Commissioner John Martin said previous media reports on the resolution suggested commissioners are against oil and gas development.

“We are not,” Martin said.

The Thompson Divide Coalition, which consists of environmentalists, ranchers, recreationists and others, is seeking to keep drilling off mostly national forest acreage stretching roughly from south of Glenwood Springs to Paonia Reservoir. However, existing leases cover nearly 100,000 of those acres, creating the prospect of having to come up with money to buy them from lease holders to prevent drilling.

Martin said it’s important to note the leases’ value isn’t what companies paid for them, but what they are thought to be worth now based on their development potential, which could be millions or even hundreds of millions of dollars.

Last year, then-U.S. Rep. John Salazar, a Democrat, agreed to carry legislation on behalf of the coalition. Then Republican Scott Tipton defeated Salazar, and now Tipton’s office is considering the issue. However, his spokesman has said the potential costs of the coalition proposal could be a deterrent, given the federal government’s current budget situation. Besides the matter of buying back leases, the government would lose any royalties that would result from drilling.

A representative for S G Interests Inc., which owns many of the leases in question, raised doubts about how realistic it is to think enough money can be found to buy back leases.

Last fall’s election also resulted in Republican Tom Jankovsky defeating incumbent Democrat Tresi Houpt in a Garfield commissioner race. Jankovsky said Tuesday that while he advocates for multiple uses of public lands, he isn’t asking that the county’s resolution regarding Thompson Divide be rescinded.

Pitkin Commissioner Jack Hatfield praised that resolution as he eyeballed a copy of it Tuesday.

“If I didn’t see Garfield County on here, I’d think maybe Pitkin County wrote it,” he said to laughter.

Pitkin’s commissioners, who are generally more politically liberal than Garfield’s, also endorsed the coalition’s effort.


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