Gov. Hickenlooper reasserts stance to keep Thompson Divide free from drilling | PostIndependent.com

Gov. Hickenlooper reasserts stance to keep Thompson Divide free from drilling

John Colson / Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, meeting with a group of area residents on Friday, reiterated his support for their efforts to keep further gas drilling activities out of the area known as the Thompson Divide, to the southwest of Glenwood Springs.

"I'm happy to support all your goals," the governor said, after being welcomed to an informal gathering of 50 or so constituents on the lawn outside the Glenwood Springs City Hall, where he had earlier met with regional governmental officials.

The Thompson Divide is a 220,000-acre region of relatively pristine terrain, much of it to the south and west of the Sunlight Mountain Resort, where energy companies are hoping to drill oil and gas wells on leases covering nearly half of the area.

But local citizens groups, led by the Thompson Divide Coalition and Wilderness Workshop, have been working to prevent those drilling plans and consider Hickenlooper their ally.

Agreeing with his audience that the Thompson Divide area is uncommonly beautiful and important for agricultural, recreational, water quality and other values, the governor also reiterated his belief that there is not enough natural gas under the ground there to bother with.

"It's not that high potential" as a resource for natural gas and other hydrocarbons, said Hickenlooper, who holds an engineering degree and said he has seen the geological and mapping reports about the area.

When a constituent cited the industry's intention "to leverage its very minor investments in the leases into a huge pay day," Hickenlooper remarked that from his perspective, "It didn't look that huge to me."

The governor also listened attentively to the words of Carbondale area rancher Bill Fales, whose family has been grazing cattle in the Thompson Divide area for 70 years.

"It's just so, so critical to our operation," said Fales, adding, "We have a real resurgence of agriculture in this valley," which he said includes the largest grass-fed beef production in the state, Crystal River Meats, based in Carbondale.

As Fales spoke, the governor kept making surprised, laudatory exclamations about the information he was receiving.

He said he had communicated with federal officials Sally Jewell, newly named Secretary of the Interior, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and others, who all are aware of his positions concerning Thompson Divide.

jcolson@postindependent.com