With first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden hitting local ski slopes for Presidents Day weekend, Pitkin County is using the opportunity to convey its thoughts on natural-gas development in Thompson Divide to the Obama administration.
The county is taking out a full-page advertisement, an open letter to the first lady and the vice president, in both Aspen newspapers. It will run Saturday in The Aspen Times.
The letter, signed by George Newman, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, urges the administration to direct the Bureau of Land Management to let "illegal leases" in Thompson Divide expire. The letter comes on the heels of a request to the BLM by Texas-based SG Interests to suspend its 16 leases in Thompson Divide, a move to keep alive leases that are set to expire this year.
Says the county's letter: "We appreciate just how important oil and gas development are to America's economy and national security. But there are right places to drill and wrong places to drill. No one would, for example, seriously suggest erecting drill rigs in Central Park. We see no exaggeration in saying that Colorado's mountain country is America's Central Park - or in saying that drilling here would be similarly destructive to our internationally-famous tourist economy."
Newman said Assistant County Attorney Chris Seldin called him to suggest the letter after news of the vacation plans of the two VIPs became public. Seldin has been the county's point person on oil and gas issues within the county attorney's office and Newman has been to Washington, D.C., on various occasions to fight for protection of Thompson Divide.
The ad might come to the attention of the administration's staff, if not the first lady and Biden personally, Newman reasoned.
"It certainly can't hurt," he said. "The better informed the administration is, I think the better off we all are."
The ad details the events that led to the issuing of oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide area, done "in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, and without any public involvement," it states.
It also describes the Divide as "classic Colorado high country beloved by hunters, anglers, ranchers, environmentalists, recreationists and everyone in between.
"Protecting this area from oil and gas development has united Democrats and Republicans on our Board of Commissioners, and throughout our community. Every county and municipal government in this valley has called on the federal government to protect this area from development," the ad reads.
The proposed Lake Ridge Unit in Thompson Divide outside of Carbondale, where the 16 leases are located, encompasses 28,824 acres. Four leases are in Garfield County, one straddles the Garfield-Pitkin County line and 11 are in Pitkin County, Seldin said.
SG Interests recently filed an application with the state to drill two wells in the area, one in Pitkin County and one in Garfield County. It has also submitted six permit applications to the BLM.