Hick garners rare enviro praise for backing Bennet's Thompson Divide drilling protection bill

By Real Aspen
Real AspenMay 21, 2013
Under fire from environmentalists and some Democrats lately for his lack of support for added oil and gas regulation, Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday finally drew some praise for his support of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s bill to protect the Thompson Divide area from drilling.

Hickenlooper called the bill, introduced by Bennet in March, a “fair approach to achieving enduring protections for a Colorado crown jewell.” He also added that Bennet’s bill would help permanently preserve the Thompson Divide are while also protecting private property rights.

The Thompson Divide area encompasses 221,500 acres of federal land in Pitkin (88,100 acres), Gunnison (51,700 acres), Garfield (43,500 acres), Mesa (30,500 acres) and Delta (7,700 acres) counties. There are currently 61 oil and gas drilling leases in the area encompassing about 105,000 acres.

Drilling opponents argue the massive swath of undeveloped land provides critical habitat for deer, elk, bear, moose, and lynx, and that hunting, fishing, recreation and grazing activities in the area provide 300 jobs and $30 million in revenues to the state.

The Thompson Divide area.

Bennet’s Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act would withdraw unleased public minerals in the area from future oil and gas development while developing a system for existing leases to be retired if they’re donated or sold by willing owners.

“This bill represents the next step toward finding a middle-ground solution,” Bennet said when he introduced the bill on March 22. “We’ll continue to work with all parties, including industry and local stakeholders on a path forward.”

Hickenlooper, who has been criticized this year for appearing to side too often with the oil and gas industry and failing to support more stringent state regulatory legislation, adds a valuable voice of support for Bennet’s bill.

“We're thrilled by Gov. Hickenlooper's decision to back a middle-ground solution that protects the Thompson Divide and the livelihoods it supports,” said Zane Kessler, executive director of the Thompson Divide Coalition. “He lends a critical and balanced voice to our broad coalition of supporters who believe the Thompson Divide is a special place that should be preserved and protected for the enjoyment of generations to come.”

Go to Bennet's website to view the full bill and provide input.

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