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.