Thompson Divide drilling foes hope for boost from Salazar |

Thompson Divide drilling foes hope for boost from Salazar

Foes of natural-gas drilling in Thompson Divide would like to see Interior Secretary Ken Salazar take the same action when he leaves office in March that he took when he started the job four years ago.

Salazar, a former U.S. senator from Colorado and native of the San Luis Valley, canceled oil and gas leases on 77 parcels of federal land in Utah in February 2009. He said drilling posed too much of a threat to spectacular landscapes in areas such as Arches National Park and Dinosaur National Monument.

Conservation groups are trying to prevent additional land in the Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale from being leased. They also want to work with oil and gas companies to “retire” existing leases.

Thompson Divide is a 221,000-acre expanse of public land that runs from Sunlight Mountain Resort to McClure Pass, west of state Highway 133. Roughly 100,000 aces of public land in the area has never been leased, said Peter Hart, attorney for Wilderness Workshop, one of the organizations fighting gas drilling there.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is drafting legislation that would prevent future leasing in the area, but it faces an uncertain future.

Salazar has demonstrated a willingness to ban leases in special circumstances. An Interior Department statement on Salazar’s resignation noted that one of the accomplishments under his leadership was leasing millions of acres of lands for oil and gas development while protecting “special landscapes for hunting and fishing.”

Salazar has been informed about the Thompson Divide landscape and the possible threats it faces.

“The secretary is aware of the Thompson Divide and the extraordinary public support that exists for protecting the Divide,” Hart said in an email in response to questions from The Aspen Times. “He’s a Coloradan through and through, and he understands the need to protect rich public lands that support so many uses, such vibrant economies, and captivate people around the country.”

In an interview, Hart downplayed the chances of Salazar taking drastic action on Thompson Divide in the short time he has left in his post.

Drilling opponents are going to have to keep working diligently with the Bureau of Land Management and Department of Interior to prevent development of existing leases and leasing of new lands, Hart said. Any help from Salazar would be welcomed, Hart said.

“We certainly hope that Salazar does everything in his power to ensure agency decisions do not facilitate development of this special area by extending existing leases or authorizing development of those leases,” Hart wrote in an email.

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