Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday officially sided with local opposition to drilling in the Thompson Divide while speaking at an event in Snowmass Village.
Hickenlooper’s comments on the topic came during a question and answer session that followed a short speech he gave to about 100 people at the Base Village Conference Center.
There has been a growing movement by the local community to stop oil and natural gas development in the Thompson Divide, which includes 221,500 acres of federal land running from the Sunlight Ski Area to McClure Pass crossing Pitkin, Gunnison, Garfield, Mesa and Delta counties. Earlier this month, two oil and gas companies — SG Interests and Ursa Piceance, LLC — filed separate requests with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for more time to develop their natural gas wells in the area. Both companies own leases that are due to expire this spring.
“I get it,” Hickenlooper said. “That’s a beautiful landscape that shouldn’t be developed. I don’t know what the BLM was thinking when they leased that land for two bucks an acre or what they thought the benefit was.”
Still, the companies currently have a legal right to the leases because they were issued by the BLM, he said. The Thompson Divide Coalition, a nonprofit that is made up of a diverse group of drilling opponents, has the right idea in trying to purchase the leases, Hickenlooper said. In February, SG Interests and other lease holders declined an offer from the coalition to buy back existing leases in the area for $2.5 million.
“I think it makes perfect sense and I think it’s doable,” Hickenlooper said.
The state government should put political pressure on the oil and gas companies, while at the same time work to match the funds raised by the coalition, which could then be offered to sweeten the deal, he said.
“Therefore you have a real offer on the table,” Hickenlooper said. “And with that pressure maybe you will have a transaction.”
Local resident Lee Mulcahy interrupted the beginning of Hickenlooper’s speech, calling the governor out for his association with oil giant Halliburton and his admission of imbibing some fracking fluid with Halliburton CEO Dave Lesar in late 2011. The fluid is used during the process of hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking,” and drillers have been criticized for not disclosing the chemicals in the material.
The fluid Hickenlooper drank was an environmentally safe prototype, developed by Halliburton, and it was made out of food additives, he said. Hickenlooper drank it in an effort to get the oil companies and environmental groups to agree to common disclosure standards about what is in the fluid, he said.
“[It was] maybe not the wisest thing I’ve done,” he said.
Hickenlooper took criticism for drinking the fluid, which the media characterized as a stunt, because it wasn’t actual franking fluid used by natural gas development.
Still, in the end it worked because a state-mandated agreement was created with oil and gas companies and environmental groups to disclose what is in fracking fluid. That agreement is now considered a model for the nation, Hickenlooper said.
Prior to the oil and gas discussion, Hickenlooper stressed the importance of different interest groups collaborating with government in order to find common goals and solutions.
One of the biggest challenges he and other elected officials face is that people don’t trust the government, Hickenlooper said. The government won’t be as effective unless people start having faith in their officials and begin working together, he said.
“Ultimately people’s willingness to … build a collaborative environment is the single most important thing that this country is going to have to deal with in the next 10 years,” Hickenlooper said. “Because right now people don’t believe in government.”
Hickenlooper was in Snowmass Village for a fundraiser at the Viceroy. During his visit, he also toured Anderson Ranch Arts Center and made an appearance at the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s new compressed natural gas facility.