Commissoners ‘feel obligation’ to protect lands |

Commissoners ‘feel obligation’ to protect lands

Scott Condon

Pitkin County commissioners “feel an obligation” to protect public lands from the potential ravages of gas and oil development, but they may be powerless to do so, according to chairwoman Dorothea Farris.

Farris, a featured speaker at a teleconference Thursday along with U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette and leaders of the Colorado environmental movement, said county officials are concerned about the potential impacts that oil and gas exploration could have on the Thompson Creek area west of Carbondale.

She noted that between 80 and 90 percent of the land in Pitkin County is owned by the public and administered by federal agencies. The board of county commissioners favors protecting those wilderness and roadless lands, according to Farris.

“We feel an obligation beyond our boundaries to protect these lands,” she said.

Lands on the western border of Pitkin County could be opened for oil and gas development next month by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The BLM is offering oil and gas leases on thousands of acres of public lands on May 13.

Most of those lands are in the gas-rich Piceance Basin, a vast area that covers much of western Colorado and extends into eastern Utah. Extraction of natural gas from that area has increased in recent years after the Bush administration placed a priority on greater domestic production of gas and oil.

Land in Thompson Creek is on the far eastern fringe of the area targeted for gas exploration. The lands offered for lease there are within the White River and Gunnison national forests, although the leases will be administered by the BLM.

Companies that successfully bid on the leases being offered May 13 will have a decade to start producing gas. If they meet that deadline, they hold the leases for as long as they want, according to Suzanne Jones, regional director of the Wilderness Society.

Farris said the impacts of gas exploration could be detrimental to the tourism-based economy of Pitkin County and towns like Carbondale, Redstone and Paonia.

“Industrial impacts … are unacceptable and unnecessary,” she said.

But Pitkin County, despite its aggressive stance on most land-use issues would be powerless to dictate what occurs on BLM lands, Farris said. The county can only regulate “off-site” impacts on adjacent lands.

Issues that the county could review include impacts to roads, noise, lighting and threats to water quality, she said.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is