Tipton guest opinion: I won’t support permanent ban in Divide
Like all Coloradans, I cherish our state’s unique geological, environmental and agricultural features. Western Colorado’s natural beauty is part of our heritage that countless residents and tourists enjoy each year. That beauty is also responsible for transforming the western part of our state into an economic force.
However, Western Colorado is also home to vast natural resources that can and will power our economy through the 21st century and beyond if responsibly developed. These natural resources and the economic opportunities they generate are part of our heritage as well. The federal government must responsibly manage natural resource development on public lands to honor that heritage by protecting and promoting our country’s growing energy independence.
These are the principles that guide my consideration of a proposal put forward by the owners of federal oil and gas leases currently in the Thompson Divide area in western Colorado. The idea is to swap the leases currently in the Thompson Divide for different federal leases located outside the Divide, and closer to existing, responsible oil and gas development. This solution is a win-win, protecting both the property rights of the owners of the leases and ensuring a large part of the Thompson Divide area remains undisturbed.
The lease exchange proposal involves oil and gas leases issued by the Bureau of Land Management that cover a combined total of roughly 42,000 acres in the Thompson Divide, an area south of Glenwood Springs and west of Carbondale that includes territory in the White River National Forest.
The Thompson Divide area is also home to significant oil and gas infrastructure. This includes the Wolf Creek Underground Gas Storage Field, which is a key cog in the Rocky Mountain Natural Gas pipeline transportation system that provides vital natural gas services to the surrounding communities on the Western Slope. The undeveloped leases in the Thompson Divide have a long and acrimonious history, marred by federal administrative uncertainty and litigation, but they hold the promise for significant natural resource reserves.
The Thompson Divide presents a microcosm of the problems natural resource developers face when attempting to develop oil and gas resources in Colorado. Here, like elsewhere, developers must carefully manage citizen concerns regarding potential environmental impact while attempting to exercise their valid contractual rights.
Unlike other contentious natural resource development disputes in Colorado, Congress has an opportunity to solve the Thompson Divide problem with targeted legislation. I believe this problem can be solved in a manner that: 1) protects the sensitive environmental, agricultural and recreational interests in the Thompson Divide; 2) respects the property rights for existing BLM leaseholders in the Divide; and 3) promotes responsible natural resource development by applying environmental and safety standards already on the books in communities outside of the Divide in the proposed exchange area. These are narrow but achievable goals if we work together in a bipartisan way, incorporating input from impacted stakeholders across the Western Slope, to solve a problem that has vexed the community for years.
I will not, however support legislation that permanently withdraws federal land from future natural resource development inside or outside of the Thompson Divide. Our goals for solving the Thompson Divide problem cannot conflict with responsible long-term management of the U.S. natural resource portfolio. We do not know what this country’s energy needs will be in the long-term future, and should keep all energy resources as viable option to fuel our economy.
While some may view the resource base under the Thompson Divide as a luxury today, we simply cannot know with any certainty what U.S. national energy development needs will look like 20, 30 or even 50 years from now, or how improved technologies may increase our capability to responsibly develop the resources to meet those needs. It seems irresponsible to permanently withdraw a federally owned resource from future development within the Thompson Divide or in the proposed exchange area in the face of that uncertainty.
The initial proposal holds promise. Going forward, I will remain in active and open discussions with all stakeholders in the proposed exchange area and note that the legislative process is very much in its early stages. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Colorado delegation on a bipartisan basis, and with all local stakeholders in the Western Slope, to explore whether or not a legislative solution that reflects our shared principles and accomplishes the goals enumerated above is possible.
Scott Tipton is a Republican who represents Colorado’s Third District in the U.S. House.
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