For Judy Fox-Perry, it was an epiphany when a group of high schoolers, recently back from a camping trip, told her that they could not urinate within 200 feet of a lake or stream.
Natural gas drilling is only prevented within 150 feet of bodies of water in some areas on the Western Slope, she said Thursday at Aspen High School.
Fox-Perry of the Thompson Divide Coalition was one of four speakers who told the 20 or so people in attendance that, if they dislike plans by SG Interests to drill in the Crystal River Valley, opposition should be voiced now.
SG recently alerted the Bureau of Land Management that the company will apply for well permits on public land it leases near Carbondale. The Thompson Divide Coalition, a motley make-up of concerned citizens, ranchers, sportsmen and business owners, reacted quickly, hosting this week four community meetings in Carbondale, Redstone, Glenwood Springs and, lastly, in Aspen.
Land in Pitkin County comprises about 88,000 acres of the total 221,490-acre Thompson Divide area, and Fox-Perry said county officials have been unceasingly supportive of the effort to limit gas drilling in the area.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without Aspen and Pitkin County,” she said.
Fox-Perry highlighted four sites in Thompson Divide where SG may want to construct roads to build and access well pads, and the coalition’s steps to prevent that. Those tactics include a baseline water-quality report — the $80,000 cost of which was raised predominately in Pitkin County — an air-quality report that involves funding for a federal monitoring station near Sunlight Mountain Resort, and the organization’s $2.5 million offer to leaseholders to sway them from drilling.
State and congressional representatives, along with BLM and U.S. Forest Service officials, have been barraged by thousands of letters, Fox-Perry said: “They know about us in Washington.”
She also displayed job numbers in the valley, figures involving the tourism, agricultural, recreational, and hunting and fishing industries that the coalition says dwarf employment in the coal mining and gas industries.
Photographs showing the plethora of secondary roads on the Roan Plateau near Rifle were compared to the relatively pristine Thompson Divide area.
Zane Kessler, the coalition’s executive director, called the Thompson Divide a “tiny strip of land” that effectively is a buffer between the Roaring Fork Valley and the Western Slope’s vast natural gas fields. He said saving the area is “potentially one of the most important conservation efforts in the West.”
Drilling bids like SG’s usually receive a federal rubber stamp, and for locals to get the attention of the state’s two U.S. senators, who wrote letters to the BLM telling the agency to slow down the examination process, “is a huge achievement,” Kessler said.
But the continued effort to preserve Thompson Divide will require a great deal of mobilization, including some 10,000 to 20,000 letters from citizens to federal agencies like the BLM and Forest Service, he said.
The Thompson Divide Coalition is lucky to have enlisted support from businesses in Aspen, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, Kessler said.
“But we need more,” he said.