Garfield County gives its official support to Thompson Divide Coalition’s work | PostIndependent.com

Garfield County gives its official support to Thompson Divide Coalition’s work

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Garfield County is officially in support of a Carbondale-based group that hopes to prevent oil and gas drilling in the Thompson Divide area, but that support is somewhat qualified.

The resolution of support for the work of the Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC) ends with a cautious proviso that the TDC’s efforts must be accomplished “in a manner that respects existing rights of leaseholders.”

But, at the suggestion of commissioner Tresi Houpt, the resolution’s prime author, commissioner Mike Samson, agreed to strike the phrase, “over the next two years,” which would have put a deadline on the county’s support for the group’s efforts.

The commissioners on Monday approved a resolution that essentially lays out the TDC’s arguments for preventing oil and gas drilling in the relatively pristine area to the northwest of Carbondale, comprising roughly 122,000 acres of “largely roadless landscape which is the largest contiguous virtually roadless area in the State of Colorado,” in the words of the resolution.

Making clear references to the area’s value as a haven for wildlife and recreationists, and as a watershed that provides clean water to agricultural operations and residential areas, the three-page resolution also extols the area’s financial value to local economies and that of the state through its attractions for tourists, sports enthusiasts and hunters.

The resolution concedes that “oil and gas development in this area may have an impact upon the rural character, ranching heritage and agricultural heritage of Garfield County, and may alter the character of the area [and] may create public environmental, health and emergency management concerns.”

But the document carefully notes that it is the TDC that “recognizes the need for energy development and the validity of existing leases, [and] believes it is imperative that energy development occur only in appropriate places and that it proceed in a responsible manner.”

It declares that “The Thompson Creek, Fourmile Creek, Threemile Creek, and Coal Creek watersheds, headwaters of East Divide Creek, Muddy Basin … deserve preservation and protection.”

Asked about the less than enthusiastic support the group got from the county commissioners on Monday, spokeswoman Dorothea Farris said, “I pretty much expected it. He did a very good job of saying what they agreed to say,” which was to support the organization’s effort “and be fair and open” during a process that may well take considerable time.

“Of course, there probably will be some differences in the future that we may need to work on,” added Farris, who has been lobbying the commissioners for the resolution for weeks.

But, Farris added, “This is a really positive development” that the commissioners have aligned themselves with the TDC, because Garfield County is “in a very difficult position.” The county oversees land uses of one of the largest gas and oil repositories in the continental U.S, which, at the same time, gets some of the heaviest public recreational use of all the nation’s public lands.

The task of the organization now is to seek ways to accomplish its goals, including such varied methods as convincing the U.S. Congress to withdraw the Thompson Divide area from leasing consideration, or convincing companies to somehow relinquish their lease rights, among other tactics.

jcolson@postindependent.com