ASPEN - Friday is the last chance for the public to weigh in on a draft bill by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. to prohibit the leasing of additional public lands in Thompson Divide for natural-gas extraction.
Bennet considers his proposal a "middle-of-the-road solution" to the controversy over the future of Thompson Divide - 221,000 acres southwest of Carbondale.
"It 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," according to a statement from Bennet's office.
Texas-based SG Interests has initiated the review process to drill on six leases it holds in Thompson Divide.
Bennet drafted his bill at the request of local governments. Thompson Divide covers territory in Pitkin, Garfield and Gunnison counties. The draft legislation is called the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act.
"Bennet is seeking input on the bill and how the area can be effectively managed to protect the multiple uses and economic interests that support the local community," his statement said. He will use the comments to further refine the bill.
The Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop - the oldest Roaring Fork Valley-based environmental organization - is urging members to comment favorably on Bennet's proposed bill. Peter Hart, staff attorney for the Wilderness Workshop, called the act "the best shot we have to ensure that the Thompson Divide is never again leased for oil and gas drilling" in an email sent to members Tuesday.
Bennet's website has a specific area posing questions about Thompson Divide's management. The first question asks what priorities the federal government should set in managing the area. The Wilderness Workshop wants members to make it clear that wildlife, ranching and recreation are the priorities rather than oil and gas development.
"This is a real milestone in the long-running effort to protect Thompson Divide," Hart wrote.
Bennet's Thompson Divide proposal is available on the senator's website at www.bennet.senate.gov/thompsondivide.