PI Editorial: CORE Act deserves GarCo support, Congressional approval | PostIndependent.com

PI Editorial: CORE Act deserves GarCo support, Congressional approval

A portion of the Thompson Divide area southwest of Glenwood Springs and due west of Carbondale.
EcoFlight photo

More than a dozen years ago, an unusual coalition of ranchers, outdoorsmen, recreationists, local government leaders and environmentalists banded together to try to prevent oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide area.

The Thompson Divide Coalition has had success, ultimately convincing federal land managers to cancel some two dozen leases in the sprawling backcountry south of Glenwood Springs and west of Carbondale that were issued without adequate impact reviews.

The coalition’s grassroots influence also helped sway a U.S. Forest Service decision in 2015 to place the lands off limits to new oil and gas leases for at least the next two decades.

What hasn’t happened, yet, is for the powers that be, both in Garfield County and in Washington, D.C., to get behind some reasonable way to place permanent protections on those lands.

The latest attempt by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado to do that — as part of the comprehensive Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy (CORE) Act — is worthy of that broad-based political support.

Earlier this year, the Garfield County commissioners reversed their previous stance in support of permanent protections for the Thompson Divide, as long as it was preceded by fair compensation for existing lease holders.

The fair compensation piece continues to be built into the CORE Act, even garnering the support of one of the two remaining lease holders in the area, Gunnison Energy.

But, it’s the permanency of closing off a section of land for future leasing that seems to be the sticking point for the commissioners.

Permanent is a long time, indeed, though it should be noted that nothing is ever truly permanent when it comes to anything under federal control. It just makes it harder to undo, which is appropriate in the case of the Thompson Divide.

Recently, the commissioners also indicated that, if a provision could be added to the legislation allowing for methane escaping from old coal mines in the region to be captured and put to use, they could get behind the bill.

If that’s what it takes — and it does sound like something worth serious consideration based on emerging technologies — perhaps that’s the compromise needed to take this next critical step toward permanent protections.

There remain many reasons to keep large-scale — or even medium- or small-scale — energy development away from the Thompson Divide.

A 2011 water quality study confirmed the pristine nature of water resources coming from the Thompson Divide area and feeding the Crystal and Roaring Fork rivers.

Economic studies have also shown that the region is crucial in supporting agricultural operations and recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, mountain biking and hiking — all of which benefit the region’s economy, and very likely more so than energy development would.

For Glenwood Springs and those living and doing business up the Four Mile Road corridor toward Sunlight Mountain Resort — the most likely haul route for accessing gas leases for drilling and production — the stakes are high.

Even with road, bridge and other infrastructure improvements completed, under way and planned, Glenwood Springs and Four Mile simply cannot handle the kind of industry traffic that would come with oil and gas exploration, drilling and production in the Thompson Divide.

Some in the energy industry would have you believe that the decisions already made to protect the Thompson Divide came out of Washington during the Obama administration as a result of lobbying from environmentalists.

But the reality is that those decisions were made as a result of broad-based local community support that included a variety of interests — strange bedfellows as they were once described — not just environmentalists.

They came together for a common purpose because, what exists on top across the landscape of the Thompson Divide region is far more valuable in so many different ways compared to what lies beneath the surface.

And, the means it would likely take to access and develop those subsurface resources are just not acceptable — not in this place.

It’s time for our county commissioners to get behind this important final piece of the Thompson Divide protection puzzle, and to encourage our congressional representatives, Rep. Scott Tipton and Sen. Cory Gardner, to support the CORE Act when it (hopefully, at long last) comes up for respective votes in the House and Senate.

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