Middle Ground Approach would Protect Land, Respect Existing Leases
Bill Introduction Follows Comment Period on Draft that Received Overwhelming Support
Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today introduced a bill for the future management of much of the Thompson Divide, a 221,000-acre parcel of public land located predominantly in Colorado’s Pitkin, Gunnison, and Garfield counties.
Bennet released a draft of the bill in August. It received overwhelming support during a four-month public comment period, which drew nearly 700 comments from local citizens, 99 percent of which were supportive of the measure. Bennet’s office has also received support from all three counties included in the Thompson Divide Bill area – Pitkin, Gunnison, and Garfield counties – as well as adjacent municipalities.
“This bill to manage the pristine Thompson Divide area reflects the voices of stakeholders and Coloradans in the surrounding communities who live, work, and recreate in the area and rely on it for their livelihoods,” Bennet said. “After receiving overwhelming support for the bill, it’s clear that it represents a popular approach that protects the land – and the local economies tied to it – from future energy development, while also acknowledging and respecting the rights of current leaseholders.”
Bennet’s Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act offers a middle ground solution to the ongoing conversation about Thompson Divide’s future. The bill presents an option that would withdraw unleased public minerals in the area from future oil and gas development while also preserving existing private property rights for current leaseholders. It also creates an opportunity for existing leases to be retired should they be donated or sold by willing owners. The bill was drafted at the request of local governments and following a series of conversations Bennet held with leaseholders, elected officials, and community leaders.
“This bill represents the next step toward finding a middle ground solution,” Bennet added. “We’ll continue to work with all parties, including industry and local stakeholders on a path forward.”
The Thompson Divide bill was modeled after a similar bill regarding land in Wyoming that was introduced by Senator Craig Thomas, a Wyoming Republican, and then carried on and passed into law in 2009 by his replacement, Senator John Barrasso, also a Wyoming Republican. The Wyoming Range Legacy Act withdrew 1.2 million acres of public land in and around the Wyoming Range from future gas and oil leases, while honoring existing leases. Following passage of the bill a local group of stakeholders successfully negotiated a deal to buy back leases.
Of the almost 700 comments Bennet received during the comment period, less than one percent stated that oil and gas development/leasing should continue in Thompson Divide. The primary reason listed was the importance of the area to our national energy independence and the public nature of the resources. The remaining 99% were supportive of the draft withdrawal bill. The following reasons most commonly cited included watershed protection, motorized and non-motorized recreation, local agriculture and food-sourcing and traffic from potential development.
Roughly 10 percent of commenters asked for expanded legislation to include additional acreage, seven percent asked for balance of development/protection in the area, and 18 percent requested that the bill prevent development altogether.
A study released earlier this week reported that development of the land would threaten $30 million in annual economic activity nearly 300 jobs that are supported by existing uses of the land.