SILT, Colorado - A delegation of 22 students crowded into the Colorado River Field Office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Monday, to let office manager Steve Bennett know that they and many others want him to "let the leases expire" in the Thompson Divide area.
The leases in question are held by natural gas drilling companies, and are due to expire this year unless the BLM grants a "suspension" requested by some of the lease holders, which would put the expiration dates on hold.
The schools represented included Colorado Rocky Mountain School and Roaring Fork High School, both in Carbondale, as well as Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs and Colorado Mountain College, with several facilities in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Presenting Bennett with a stack of 1,152 letters, Lea Linse, a student at Colorado Rocky Mountain School and a founder of the Thompson Divide Action Club, said, "They all say, in various ways, to let the leases expire."
A number of local groups, including the Thompson Divide Coalition and the Wilderness Workshop, have been working to prevent oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide.
Thompson Divide encompasses about 221,000 acres of mostly public land southwest of Glenwood Springs, stretching from Ski Sunlight outside of Glenwood Springs to McClure Pass.
"It's not an easy decision," Bennett told the students. "If it was easy we probably would have made the decision by now."
He told the students that he expects to make a decision on the suspension requests before the leases are due to expire.
"We're in that process right now, you know, and we're still just not ready to announce any decision yet," Bennett continued, noting that part of the continuing review of the suspension requests is "a lot of legal review."
As the meeting drew to a close, Bennett said to the students, "This actually may be one of the most difficult decisions I've made. Actually, it is my decision. It's not something that's made at the state office or the Washington office level."