Guest Opinion: Thompson Divide is about local economy, not class warfare

By Leo McKinney, Mayor of Glenwood Springs
and Stacy Bernot, Mayor of Carbondale

As elected officials, we are troubled by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s rhetoric at a BLM meeting in De Beque last week.

There, COGA proclaimed that the community-based effort to protect the Thompson Divide is in fact a plot to destroy working-class jobs orchestrated by rich people in Aspen.

That meeting was the last of four BLM held to gather input on what to do with 65 oil and gas leases issued illegally during the Bush administration. Twenty-five of those leases are in the Thompson Divide area. BLM has already fully or partly canceled seven other illegal leases in this area, including four in the middle of Sunlight Ski Area.

Our citizens are united — Republicans and Democrats, ranchers and conservationists, sportsmen and recreationalists — in a belief that public lands in the Thompson Divide area should not be drilled.

The reason is largely economic: We depend on tourism, recreation and agriculture to support our local economy. In Glenwood Springs, for example, tourism generates $243.5 million annually. The Thompson Divide is home to skiing at Sunlight and Spring Gulch, prime grazing land and hunting areas that Colorado Parks and Wildlife calls the “Elk Factory” of our region. A study by Denver-based economists shows that existing uses in the Thompson Divide directly support 300 jobs and $30 million in annual economic activity.

We respect the rights of other communities to chart their own destinies, and we have taken no position with regard to leases elsewhere. We also recognize the contribution natural gas makes to economic growth in Colorado. We see nothing unreasonable in asking our neighbors to extend us, and the importance of our economies, the same respect.

Anybody following this issue for the last three years knows the effort to protect Thompson Divide has always been led by ranchers, sportsmen, conservationists and recreationists around Carbondale and Glenwood. If these folks are what COGA thinks of as “rich people in Aspen,” then most everyone in Colorado probably meets that description. The turnout at BLM’s recent meetings confirms this: 300 people came out in Carbondale and 150 in Glenwood Springs. Only 75 showed up in Aspen. We appreciate all the people who support this effort. But one would have to be asleep to think it’s being driven by rich people in Aspen.

Those working to protect Thompson Divide are no different from folks who live in Grand Junction or De Beque. Our citizens depend on ranching, recreation and tourist economies to feed their families just like others elsewhere depend on oil and gas work to feed theirs. The fact that we make a living on ranching and tourism while others pay the bills with oil and gas doesn’t strike us as a good reason for “us versus them” talk.

Ironically, leaseholders in the Thompson Divide are closer to the profile COGA is pushing with its class-warfare rhetoric. SG Interests is owned by two billionaires from Houston (one of whom has a home in Aspen, by the way). Ursa Resources is owned by a Houston- and London-based private-equity firm valued at $7.9 billion.

We don’t begrudge these companies their success, and we don’t attribute COGA’s rhetoric to them. We do, however, hope the Colorado Oil and Gas Association will abandon its ugly and inaccurate politics of class warfare and instead get behind a win-win solution that compensates leaseholders, avoids the need to cancel leases and permanently protects the Thompson Divide. The Thompson Divide Coalition has been offering that solution for more than three years, and its doors are still open.


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I attended that meeting in DeBeque, and was appalled by the extreme rhetoric. The meeting was staged by the oil and gas industry, and designed to intimidate anyone who might hold a view that a balanced approach to managing BLM lands includes interests beyond the oil patch. I was especially offended, when my opponent, Ray Scott, stood up and said that he was angry that he had to drive to DeBeque to have his opinion heard. He claimed he was angry because the legislature was in session and he should have been in Denver legislating. He is right that he should have been in Denver doing the work that the voters of his district elected him to do. Standing up and yelling in a room full of oil and gas employees, who were there as props for the industry, was no more effective in the scheme of things than submitting a comment, in writing, from his desk in Denver would have been. He promised hearings in Denver when the next legislative session gets underway—big talk, but not likely given the minority position held by his party in the legislature. Anyone who attended this meeting saw that the rich guys in the room, who provided “Save our Wells” stickers to their cheerleaders, were COGA bought and paid for. What I’d like to know is how it happened that Club 20, the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, and two county commissioners (Rose Pugliese and John Justman) all had the same talking points. I’m especially interested in the two county commissioners. Was there a meeting held where strategies for this meeting were discussed? If so, that is a violation of Colorado’s Sunshine laws, reminiscent of the meeting held in Utah that got Garfield County Commissioners in hot water. Since only Craig Meis, former county commissioner, attended the Utah meeting on behalf of Mesa County, our county escaped the lawsuit that was eventually brought challenging the violation of Sunshine laws by Garfield County Commissioners.

I, too attended the meeting in DeBeque and I was appalled by the over dramatization of the folks from the TDC. They are afraid the 25 leases will choke them to death and poison their water.

The reality is, if Gas Drilling did even a 10th of what the Environmentalists like Konola and the TDC claim it does, those poor TDC folks would already be dead. If they did not choke and the water did not poison them under the drilling levels in 2006-2008, then they are just blowing hot air about the pollution involved.

I also wonder how much of a carbon footprint those snowmobiles, private jets, 70,000 BTU Gas Fireplaces, and giant wood burning Fireplaces create. I can guarantee it is substantially more than 25 active oil and gas leases would produce.

I do respect the TDC and their urge for local control. I understand that they are a tourist area. I wonder if they realize how many of those tourists come from those evil Oil and Gas workers. I know my wife and I spent our anniversary in Aspen last year. I know we won’t be doing it again. They obviously do not need the money from us poor unwashed masses down stream from them. Same with Glenwood. The amazing thing is those evil Oil and Gas guys do an awful lot of Hunting and Fishing. They do a ton snowmobiling. Heck, I bet they even do some hiking and skiing.

I wonder what affect the loss of revenue would be if the Oil and Gas guys decided to leave Aspen and Glenwood out of their recreation plans. Maybe then these NIMBY folks would understand the economic impact we are talking about here.

I am also surprised about the lack of respect for the rule of contract law shown by folks like Claudette Konola. The time to protest those leases were when they were issued. There is no grass roots in the TDC. They can put forth any face they want, but they are funded by large environmental interests who have donated millions of dollars to Mark Udall. If what the TDC claims was true then, why would the BLM attempt to close 65 leases and not just the 25 they wanted?

Because the TDC wants all 65 of those leases cancelled. This includes 8 active leases with 72 active wells. Over half of those 65 leases are in Mesa County, yet our County was going to be left out of the commentary process on this. Only the efforts of WSCOGA, Rose Pugliese, Steve Aquafresca, and John Justman got us the begrudged meeting in DeBeque. Three meetings in the Liberal end of Garfield and Pitkin County and only one in Mesa. This must be the idea of balanced approach Claudette wants. These hearings should have been a 50-50 proposition.

cont. Claudette also does not give you the whole story on Ray Scott’s comments. He was angry, as he should be, but angry over the lack of respect for existing contracts and the costs to the State the cancellation of Oil and Gas leases represent. The money and royalties for those leases has already been spent and budgeted. When coupled with the leases on the Roan Plateau, these represent Millions of Dollars the State of Colorado will be on the hook for repayment to the Companies. How do you compensate the 8 active leases and 72 wells that are producing? Do they get their lease money plus loss of revenue? We could be talking a Billion or more.

Claudette was so dedicated to making sure her voice was heard, that she left the meeting early and when her name was called to submit her opinion at the mike, she was no where to be found.

I wonder is the Daily Sentinel going to allow West Slope COGA to have a guest column as well. Normally they would run them side by side, so my guess is no. This must be the more of the balanced approach Konola was complaining about.

The left is not interested in compromise. They are interested in turning Western Colorado into there personal play land. A place where they can come and be served by the plebes, toss a few dollars our way and then go back the Liberal La La Land of the I-25 corridor.

That is only part of the State that matters anyway, right?

Kevin, I know you are not a scientist, but enough with the rhetoric to “save oil and gas.”  In case you haven’t noticed, that industry is STILL doing very well for itself.  There is far too much peer-reviewed studies published by highly qualified experts that show the undermining, of the health and safety, of American Citizens air quality, water and land.  Not all oil and gas companies have done this. But it only takes a few “bad apples” to spoil the “barrel.”  The bottom line for the man on the street, when “corporations” do business in a secret manner (proprietary fracking fluids are still unknown), the public SHOULD be suspicious. 

I felt badly for all the oil and gas workers at that meeting. Most had no idea about an EIS from a NEPA study.  They are worried about their well-paid jobs. They received no answers from their elected officials, Chamber of Commerce, Club 20 or anyone.  Their own supervisors said nothing. AND…As far as I was concerned, Ray Scott, made a fool of himself. He insisted on using a podium to read his speech, which means it was prepared before ANY statements, he droned on way past the agreed upon 2 minutes for statements as if he had more privilege then anyone else. He NEVER shows his face at these things, except now he wants to be a state senator? For a man that was only going to run for one term as a state rep he is doing a good impression of becoming a career politician. He getting something from being a repetitive politician.  Do you know what that is?

Just to let you know, and you can check this out for yourself or talk to any contractor that has had a US government contract…The US government can, under any circumstance cancel, change, alter etc any contract at will. There are some circumstances companies have for compensation but not always. Its a taxpayer safeguard.  A good example is the George Washington Bridge- Hudson rail tunnel that Chris Christie (R) Governor of New Jersey, killed after he entered office.  This was a multi-level long term inter-state and US government contract. The Governor, one man, one Governor, one part of the signatory party, killed the “contract.”  The NJ Governor is not even the US government. So for anyone to think ANY contract cannot be broken or altered is just choosing to be disingenuous.

Your viewpoint of oil and gas can do and drill wherever or whenever they want is wearing thin.  Where is your loyalty to the other companies and businesses that are the true diversified economy of this state? Why do you or your tea party not EVER fight for them? Why is you tea party ignoring renewable energy sources?  Is it because of where your tea party gets its money to function?

Benita: facts are tricky things, and the fact is, if Oil and Gas were the disasters you and Claudette make them out to be the entire Western Slope would be laid waste.

You are the folks practicing hyperbole. You find pliant scientists to massage the facts and run tilted tests to prove your point. While not a official scientist, I would guarantee that I have more hours in Climate and Physical related Science than most of the Climate Scientists voting on climate change.

We are talking about the Western Slope in Colorado, not how well the Oil and Gas Industry is doing every where else. The industry in Western Colorado is disappearing because of Bureaucrats, not responsible to the voters making decisions. To deny the importance of the energy industry to Western Colorado, shows your ignorance of the economic facts.

Your attack on Ray Scott is laughable. Right now he is the only politician fighting for Western Slope jobs. Maybe next time you can just have Chuck Beauchamp borrow your password and comment for you.

As far as our group, we are fighting for all Western Colorado Businesses. We can read a spreadsheet and know how the economy hums along when the Energy Industry is doing well in Western Colorado and how we struggle when it is not. Saturday, I spoke of actual solutions, not the pie in the sky vacation fairyland your side believes tourism will bring. You must be proud of watching Western Slope business struggle to survive. You must be proud of the 8,000 jobs lost, the hopelessness of folks looking for work must make your day bright. How can you be so blind? The numbers are there for all to read.

You must be proud of the hundreds and thousands of bankruptcies stemming from the current economy. You must be proud of the hundreds of families split apart while one spouse pursues work in the Oil Fields of North Dakota and Wyoming and the other tries to work here.

These are all facts Benita, not made up scientific studies, but facts. These are the facts you want to ignore.

Here is a slogan for your run for Office:

Vote Benita Phillips
Because I helped Destroy the Economy IN Grand Junction.

I lived and worked in the Oil and Gas Industry Kevin.  I am on no ones side on that issue and you know it. There is something to be said about what goes around comes around my friend. I am confused by your inability to have this discussion with me without lobbing rhetoric. Where is the guy with the heart. You aren’t attached at the Republican hip with Scott which is the ONLY subject you actually connected with in your response.

We have talked before and came to some general agreement.  You gave me your personal card so we could speak further.  Maybe it is time we do just that.  I would even buy the first cup of coffee. We are ALL on the same “side” Kevin. Just because we are winding down in Afghanistan does that mean we have to “fight” each other.  Truth be known Kevin, we, you and I are entering the neo-feudal stage of our social development. We can begin with that discussion over coffee. Talk to you soon.

The green NIMBYS are doing nothing more than promoting a war against carbon based energy. They are trying to ban fracking, they are trying to get existing leases cancelled, and they are looking for any possible plant or animal they can get classified as “endangered” to slow current development and to try and remove land from future development.

We are heading for a social collapse of an already fragile economy. Driving energy prices up before any sustainable alternative energy infrastructure is in place will only accelerate our economic collapse. A recent article stated that 87% of U.S. citizens cannot afford a new car…so who’s going to buy alternative powered vehicles? Maybe if the minimum wage were raised to $30-40 per hour, people can afford the expensive initial outlay for home solar panels or wind turbines. Until then, people are going to want what they can afford, and even our current energy costs to the consumer are a hardship to working class people. The rich liberals forcing anti carbon strong arm tactics are out-of touch with the average citizen.

Todd, at one time our LOCAL solar companies had lease agreements with no initial costs to you.  I know there were so many that took advantage of locking down their future cost per KW hour.  Call High Noon or Atlasta solar….Xcel is doing net metering so you may still be able to take advantage of that.

You are so right…we are moving into the future and that is a bit hair-raising. Tesla, though their cars are way to high priced for us here, has charging stations from west to east coast including Grand Junction at the Mall.

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