Council likely to discuss Thompson Divide | AspenTimes.com

Council likely to discuss Thompson Divide

Staff report
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – At a work session today, the Aspen City Council is expected to discuss whether to support an initiative that aims to prevent drilling in Thompson Divide.

At the council’s Sept. 24 regular meeting, Dorothea Farris, a board member of the anti-drilling Thompson Divide Coalition, sought an endorsement of the group’s cause. Farris, of Carbondale, is a former Pitkin County commissioner and Aspen School District board member.

Council members indicated last week that they wanted more information. The coalition is expected to make another pitch at today’s work session, which starts at 5 p.m. at Aspen City Hall, 130 S. Galena St.

The council’s meeting packet contains a draft letter from Mayor Mick Ireland to U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., stating that the city supports his proposed legislation, the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act. The letter is unsigned and neither the mayor nor the council have officially weighed in on the matter.

Bennet’s bill would prevent further leasing in Thompson Divide, but it does nothing to address drilling on existing leases.

A company that leases thousands of acres of public land in Thompson Divide has informed the Bureau of Land Management that it is preparing to apply for permits to drill wells. Houston-based SG Interests is exploring development of seven to nine well pads, according to the BLM. Each pad can have one or more wells.

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In a separate action, SG Interests applied to the BLM to lump 18 of its gas leases into a single unit. If the 32,000-acre Lake Ridge Unit is approved, it would allow the company to hold its leases for a longer time. As of now, 20 leases the company owns are set to expire between May 31 and Aug. 31.

Proponents of drilling say SG Interests and other gas companies have a legal right to extract resources from their leases. They also say that drilling would provide well-paying jobs to the area.

Critics contend that extraction of gas could harm the environment, eliminating or reducing the viability of ranching, farming and outdoor recreation in Thompson Divide and adjacent lands.

The Thompson Divide area stretches from Sunlight Mountain Resort, the ski area outside Glenwood Springs, to McClure Pass. The area is west of Highway 133. It covers 221,500 acres of federal land in Pitkin County (88,100 acres), Gunnison County (51,700 acres), Garfield County (43,500 acres), Mesa County (30,500 acres) and Delta County (7,700 acres).

In recent months, governments representing Garfield County and the towns of Basalt, Carbondale and Snowmass Village all have provided written support for Bennet’s legislation.

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