Sen. Bennet, Garfield County commissioners divided on Thompson Divide-area protection bill

Alex Zorn
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
An aerial view of the Thompson Divide area, looking south along West Divide Creek, with the Bull Mountain Pipeline running roughly parallel, to the left, of the creek bottom. Mount Sopris, at upper left, and Chair Mountain, upper right, frame the background.
Daniel Bayer/EcoFlight

Though a recent proposal concerning the Thompson Divide region that seeks to withdraw mineral leasing from the area permanently has received support from Colorado lawmakers and environmental groups, Garfield County commissioners are leery of the bill.

Last month, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado proposed as part of a new, broader public lands bill to permanently protect the area west of Carbondale from future oil and gas development. The proposal is part of a package of four public land conservation bills the senator introduced, known as the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, or CORE.

“I just feel like it was resolved … and yet it seems like it’s never enough. The environmental groups always want more,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said at the Monday county commissioners meeting this week.

He was referring to a 2017 Bureau of Land Management decision to cancel nearly two dozen undeveloped leases in the region, and the latest U.S. Forest Service management plan that bars new oil and gas leasing across much of region for the next two decades.

Before the commissioners was a proposed letter of support for the latest legislative attempt to bar future oil and gas development in the remote backcountry area that stretches from Four Mile Park south of Glenwood Springs across the Thompson Creek drainage to the top of McClure Pass, and west to the upper Divide Creek area.

While the commissioners reiterated their desire to keep the Thompson Divide area attractive for multiple uses, including hunting, cattle grazing and recreational activities, they did not support Bennet’s desire to leave the lands free of oil and gas development permanently.

“Bennet wants to withdraw into perpetuity the mineral rights in the Thompson Divide. … That is counter to previous discussions we’ve had as a commission,” Jankovsky said.

In September of last year, a federal court upheld the 2017 BLM decision to cancel 18 undeveloped natural gas leases in the region. The White River National Forest, in its 2015 management plan, removed the area from its available inventory of lands for new oil and gas leases over the next 20 years.

While groups such as the Thompson Divide Coalition and Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop have pushed to see the area off-limits to energy development permanently, that wasn’t supported by the commissioners at their Monday meeting.

Jankovsky preferred to see the mineral rights recessed for the next 10 to 20 years until the Forest Service creates its next land-use plan, and then revisit the issue again.

“I would like to see a letter to Bennet [and others] that we do not want to see mineral rights withdrawn in Garfield County,” he said.

He added that the commissioners’ main concern has been with the oil and gas industry potentially accessing the Thompson Divide via Four Mile Road through Glenwood Springs, or from Carbondale up Thompson Creek.

Commissioner John Martin said he’s had conversations with Bennet’s staff indicating the county does not support withdrawal of mineral leasing in perpetuity, and that the county will work together and find a solution regarding access.


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