GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Both of Colorado’s U.S. senators are now on board to prevent drilling for oil and gas in the Thompson Divide region west and south of Glenwood Springs.
Sen. Mark Udall on Thursday added his name as cosponsor of the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act, a bill originally drafted and introduced by Udall’s fellow Colorado senator, Michael Bennet.
“Colorado’s natural gas industry is an important part of our state’s economy and one I have been proud to partner with throughout my time in Congress,” Udall said in a formal statement. “This legislation is critical to ensure that Colorado’s balanced approach to energy development also respects our other job-creating industries while preserving the pristine public lands that form the foundation of our high quality of life.”
The legislation would withdraw unleased lands in the Thompson Divide area from future leasing programs for mining or other development, and permit those currently holding mineral leases in the area to relinquish those leases, either by donating them to conservancy organizations, selling them, or voluntarily exchanging their holdings for other mineral interests elsewhere.
The Thompson Divide is a largely undeveloped area encompassing 221,500 acres of mostly federal land that touches on Garfield, Pitkin, Mesa, Gunnison and Delta counties.
The region contains 61 natural gas leases, covering approximately 105,000 acres of land, much of which is in officially designated roadless areas, according to the Thompson Divide Coalition, a Carbondale-based organization fighting to keep drilling rigs out of the area.
The announcement of Udall’s cosponsorship of the act was greeted with glee by TDC supporters in the area.
“The Thompson Divide is an economic engine for the city of Glenwood Springs and the region as a whole,” said Glenwood Springs Mayor Leo McKinney. “We appreciate Senator Udall’s efforts to protect this area and all that it contributes to our local economy and our Western Slope way of life.”
Those sentiments were seconded by Tai Jacober, CEO of the Crystal River Meats business based in Carbondale.
“Our entire business relies on grazing allotments in the divide,” Jacober said. “But it’s not just us, it’s a whole host of ranchers, outfitters and small business owners that rely on this area for their livelihoods. I’m glad to see that Senator Udall is stepping up to the plate for us.”
According to a recent report by the Denver based BBC research group, hunting, fishing, grazing and recreational activities in the Thompson Divide region provide nearly 300 jobs and $30 million annually in economic value, as well as its less tangible value as a scenic draw for regional tourism.
“The outdoor industry is thriving in this region of the state, and recreational areas like the Thompson Divide are an important part of the business environment,” said Darren Broome, co-owner of the Aloha Mountain Cyclery shop in Carbondale. “It’s reassuring to see that our elected officials understand the importance of a balanced and diversified economy on the Western Slope.”