With this week’s announcement that plans for natural gas drilling in the Thompson Divide area outside Carbondale are inching closer to reality, a group intent on preserving the wild landscape is looking to mobilize community sentiment to protect the area.
The Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC) is organizing what it’s calling “emergency town hall meetings” next week in Carbondale, Redstone, Glenwood Springs and Aspen in response to the news that SG Interests, a Houston-based oil and gas company, has informed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that it is preparing to apply for drilling permits on leases it holds in the Divide area.
“If we are going to engage the federal agencies and industry players in a good-faith effort to protect the Divide, we must ensure that we are well organized and unified,” says an email blast sent by TDC director Zane Kessler. “To be clear, it will require not one, or two, but all of our communities to engage the agencies and leaseholders in an effort to conserve our land, our trails, and our water.”
The TDC was founded in response to the drilling plans, and its constituency includes a mixture of ranchers, environmentalists and sportsmen. It aims to conduct “good faith” negotiations with drilling companies with the end goal of protecting the Divide, said Kessler, who only came on as executive director for the TDC on Monday.
“Nothing like trial by fire,” he said.
Maintaining the TDC as a credible party to both sides of the Thompson Divide issue is “the hardest part of my new job,” Kessler said.
“It’s going to require community consensus on the management of the Thompson Divide,” he said.
The group aims to protect the divide because of its value as a wildlife habitat, the clean air and water it currently harbors and the recreation opportunities it provides.
An aerial view of the Thompson Divide.
Thompson Divide offers value to a wide variety of valley residents, and its preservation is economically important, Kessler added. To get a good sense of the landscape, he recommended a bike ride up Four Mile Canyon.
The meetings will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Monday in Carbondale at the Third Street Center; at 6 p.m. on Tuesday in Redstone at the Church at Redstone; at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Glenwood Springs at the Rec Center; and at 6 p.m. Thursday in Aspen at the high school seminar room. TDC is asking attendees to RSVP at www.savethompsondivide.org/take-action/town-hall-meetings.html.
A representative of SG Interests did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday, but the drilling company is one of a handful of lease holders in the Thompson Divide area, which encompasses roughly 225,000 acres of public land between Sunlight Mountain ski area and McClure Pass. It forms the eastern edge of the gas-rich Piceance Basin.
Many of SG’s leases begin to expire next summer, and the group has asked the BLM to “unitize” 32,000 acres of its lease holdings, which would effectively extend the deadline. That proposal is still pending.
“They’re not seeing any movement on the unitization request,” Kessler said. “Maybe they’re seeing that time is short and this move is to make sure they are working to protect the leases they hold.”
Once a formal permit application is submitted, a National Environmental Policy Act review would commence, which offers public comment opportunity. The Forest Service is also in the midst of updating a surface use plan that could affect the leases, some of which are on land designated as roadless.
“There are still a number of hoops that the industry needs to jump though, but we don’t know the time frame,” Kessler said.