Washington, D.C. - Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today introduced the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act of 2017 to protect more than 172,000 acres in the Thompson Divide and adjacent areas from the possibility of future leasing, while providing compensation for Thompson Divide leaseholders.
"The bill reflects the voices of those who live, work, and recreate in the Thompson Divide area," Bennet said. "We've taken great steps by working with these communities to reach a final resolution for long-term certainty and management of the Divide. This middle ground approach protects the land - and the local economies tied to it - from future energy development, while also ensuring that former leaseholders receive fair compensation to reinvest in other areas of Colorado."
The Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act of 2017 is a new version of Senator Bennet's bill from previous sessions of Congress, which is revised based on extensive discussions with local communities, elected officials, and oil and gas companies.
The bill would withdraw most of the Thompson Divide area near Carbondale and Glenwood Springs from future oil and gas development, while also preserving existing private property rights for current leaseholders and landowners. The acreage to be withdrawn is based on specific requests and feedback from Gunnison, Pitkin, and Garfield counties, as well as local oil and gas developer Gunnison Energy.
"Gunnison County supports the commonsense compromise embodied in this bill that helps to balance our needs for energy production and conservation -- both of which we support in our county," said Gunnison County Commissioner Jonathan Houck. "We appreciate Senator Bennet working closely with us on this bill to ensure it reflects our input and protects those areas in our county such as Kebler pass and Thompson Divide that we feel are inappropriate for oil and gas production. This bill is a major step towards final resolution of these issues and we look forward to working with Senator Bennet to move this legislation forward."
"Pitkin County has long supported legislation to permanently protect the Thompson Divide and provide a fair and balanced solution to the contested leases in the area," said Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman. "The cancellation of many such leases last year was a major step forward in this effort, but we are still concerned about possible litigation that would cause years of continued uncertainty for Thompson Divide and the local communities that relies on the unique and sustainable natural environment for their livelihood from historic ranching to recreation and tourism. Senator Bennet's bill presents an immediate, thoughtful and long-term solution to those issues."
"Garfield County supports this middle-ground compromise that makes the energy companies whole, was developed with input from all sides, and provides a balanced solution to the Thompson Divide leasing issue," said Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky.
"We support this legislative compromise because it addresses our concerns over continued access to areas we need in order to continue production from our existing leases," said President of Gunnison Energy Brad Robinson. "This bill does that by balancing energy needs with the wishes of the community to keep some areas undeveloped along Thompson Divide and Kebler Pass. We are also excited and encouraged over the new provisions in this bill that will promote the capture of energy from methane leaks into the atmosphere from old coal mining areas. These provisions will help bring jobs and economic growth to the North Fork Valley and also help the environment."
While many of the leases in Thompson Divide were recently cancelled by the Bureau of Land Management, this bill would provide certainty for the local community and former leaseholders. It presents an option to avoid costly and drawn-out litigation by withdrawing from the Thompson Divide area altogether, in exchange for credits that could be used to bid on new leases in areas determined appropriate through the National Environmental Policy Act.
Based on a request from Gunnison County, nearby Delta County, and natural gas producers, the bill also contains a provision that would support the local economy and address climate change by creating a program to lease and generate energy from excess methane in existing and abandoned coal mines in the North Fork Valley of the Gunnison River, at the base of the Thompson Divide.
Senator Bennet visited the Thompson Divide most recently last August, where he toured the Divide with multiple generations of local ranchers and sportsmen who spoke unanimously about the need to remove all remaining threats of development and provide permanent protection for the area.