Commissioners explain what it would take to support CORE Act |

Commissioners explain what it would take to support CORE Act

Thompson Divide

Garfield County commissioners may support a bill that would permanently protect the Thompson Divide from oil and gas drilling, if it is amended to allow methane extraction.

At a special meeting Wednesday, the three commissioners spoke with John Whitney of Sen. Michael Bennet’s Durango office about their concerns with the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy (CORE) Act, a broad public lands bill that includes a permanent moratorium on new oil and gas well leases.

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said Wednesday that adding provisions to capture methane in Garfield and Pitkin counties’ part of the Thompson Divide would change how he looks at the bill.

At a previous meeting, the commissioners refused to sign a letter of support for the CORE Act, despite previous support for withdrawing the divide from new oil and gas leases.

“I feel this is a multiple-use area… [but] I’m not of the belief that if someone drills, your water goes bad and you destroy the habitat,” Jankovsky saidin February. “I don’t feel there should be permanent withdrawal.”

But Whitney indicated that a methane provision could be included so the region could “capture methane that’s venting into the atmosphere and put it to good use.”

“I think it could be a really good addition to the bill, if we can make the stakeholders and the counties come together on this and get more methane capture. I think we will have improved this legislative product,” he said.

A methane problem

Defunct coal mines generate large amounts of methane stored underground, which leaks into the atmosphere.

Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. One common disposal method is to burn it, which converts it to CO2, and then vent it. But there are promising projects that could capture the energy in methane and generate electricity.

“We can clean up the environment, and use the other stuff that we have thrown away to our advantage as a resource, instead of a detriment,” Commission Chair John Martin said Wednesday.

Former Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot, a member of the Thompson Divide Coalition, urged the commissioners to support permanent protection of the area as a way to further the Roaring Fork Valley economy’s departure from mineral extraction.

“The agriculture, recreation, tourism, and overall quality of life we have cultivated in our communities and our economies are dependent on the Thompson Divide as it is, which is why we have had such unanimous support over the years,” Bernot said in a statement. “Permanence is the assurance we need to protect the gains we’ve made and ensure our investments in our future moving forward.”

The House version of the CORE Act has gone through committee, but hasn’t made it further in either chamber.

Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner has not supported the bill, but said in March that it needs more work.

Gardner told Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry that he “won’t block’”the CORE Act, but has some concerns, including Garfield County’s hesitation.

The methane addition could bring Garfield County’s support.

“I see light at the end of the tunnel. I encourage you to go back and rework things,” Garfield Commissioner Mike Samson said to Whitney Wednesday. “I think we can come to an understanding and make things work,” he said.

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