Thompson Divide discussion dominates Tipton visit
Congressman Scott Tipton stopped off Thursday in Glenwood Springs, capping off a two-day tour of western Colorado.
A crowd filled the county commissioners’ chambers, and commissioners quickly concluded that most of them were there to address oil and gas leases on the Thompson Divide.
Garfield County commissioners have supported an alternative that would create partial limits on future leasing in the Thompson Divide, forcing permanent withdrawal of about 39,000 acres. And commissioners have encouraged the Thompson Divide Coalition and energy companies to work together, possibly toward a lease exchange for leases outside of the Thompson Divide.
Tipton is not opposed to a lease exchange, but he has said he cannot support permanent withdrawal of divide lands from leasing.
The Bureau of Land Management, in its draft Environmental Impact Statement, has proposed canceling 18 of the 25 oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide and reducing the size of seven more.
Much of the conversation hinged on opinions about whether the oil and gas companies’ leases in the area south and west of Glenwood Springs constituted private property.
Some also questioned whether the leases were approved legally in the first place.
The Thompson Divide is clearly unique for its high-quality water, wildlife range and grazing, but there are also 25 leases there than have already been let, said Commissioner Tom Jankovsky. And because they’re owned by energy companies, they have private property rights, he said.
Members of the Thompson Divide Coalition, including Zane Kessler, the organization’s executive director, stood fast that the areas in question were undoubtedly public lands and not private property.
Tipton said the leases constituted private property in that the government let those lands to the energy companies for responsible development.
He also encouraged the Thompson Divide Coalition to work with him and the energy companies toward a lease swap.
Kessler called the congressman out for calling Thompson Divide supporters “environmental extremists” and describing BLM’s process as abuse of private property rights.
Katrina Byars, a Carbondale trustee, said the Thompson Divide represents the top of the watershed, and therefore the decision on leases in the area should take into consideration the amount of damage that could result.
The leases in the divide area are only “25 out of 40,000 planned in our region,” said Byars. And correcting only those 25 leases should be a priority in order to protect the area’s water, a resource of growing scarcity in the arid West, she said.
Heavy traffic from all the equipment that a natural gas operation would require in Thompson Divide also has Glenwood Springs concerned.
Kathryn Trauger, a Glenwood Springs City Council member, asked the congressman to consider that traffic’s effect on Glenwood neighborhoods and streets.
Jankovsky said that taking that traffic on Four Mile Road would be just as expensive, if not more, than taking it through a route west of the Thompson Divide, so the route shouldn’t run through Glenwood or Carbondale.
“But I don’t think it matters what we say locally because I think the decision is going to come from Washington, D.C.,” he added.
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