Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper offered his support for a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate by Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet that would govern the future management of much of the Thompson Divide, a 221,000-acre parcel of public land located predominantly in Colorado's Pitkin, Gunnison, and Garfield counties. Bennet introduced the bill in March after receiving feedback on the proposal during a four-month public comment period.
In a letter to Senator Bennet, Governor Hickenlooper wrote, "The benefits of protecting unleased land in the Thompson Divide and ultimately retiring leases once they come back into federal ownership will be realized without threatening existing mineral rights. Importantly, this legislation is affecting land within the Thompson Divide area only where there is county support."
"The bill we introduced to manage the Thompson Divide is a reflection of Coloradans coming together for the benefit of their communities. Governor Hickenlooper's endorsement strengthens the overwhelming support for this bill," Bennet said. "It is a middle ground approach that protects the land -- and the local economies and livelihoods tied to it -- from future energy development, while also acknowledging and respecting the rights of current leaseholders. We will continue to work with all of the industry and local stakeholders on the best path forward."
Bennet released a draft of the bill last August. It received overwhelming support during a four-month public comment period, which drew nearly 700 comments from local citizens, 99 percent of which were supportive of the measure. Bennet's office has also received support from all three counties included in the Thompson Divide Bill area -- Pitkin, Gunnison, and Garfield counties -- as well as adjacent municipalities.
Of the almost 700 comments Bennet received during the comment period, less than one percent stated that oil and gas development/leasing should continue in Thompson Divide. The primary reason listed was the importance of the area to our national energy independence and the public nature of the resources. The remaining 99% were supportive of the draft withdrawal bill. The following reasons most commonly cited included watershed protection, motorized and non-motorized recreation, local agriculture and food-sourcing and traffic from potential development.
Roughly 10 percent of commenters asked for expanded legislation to include additional acreage, seven percent asked for balance of development/protection in the area, and 18 percent requested that the bill prevent development altogether.
A study released earlier in March reported that development of the land would threaten $30 million in annual economic activity and nearly 300 jobs that are supported by existing uses of the land.