Sen. Bennet introduces bill to protect Thompson Divide | AspenTimes.com

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Sen. Bennet introduces bill to protect Thompson Divide

Sen. Michael Bennet

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet on Friday introduced the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act, offering what the congressman’s office termed a “middle-ground solution” to the hotly contested prospect of future gas drilling on the public lands southwest of Carbondale.

The bill would withdraw unleased minerals in the 221,000-acre area from future oil and gas development while also preserving existing 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.

Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, drafted his bill at the urging of local governments and with input from leaseholders and others with an interest in the fate of Thompson Divide. He released it for public comment in August and it drew “overwhelming” support during a four-month period. Nearly 700 citizens filed comments and 99 percent supported the measure, the senator’s office said. Fewer than 1 percent said oil and gas development or leasing should continue in the area.

“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 in a prepared statement.

For more on the bill and local reaction to the legislation, see Saturday’s Aspen Times.