AP News

Gov. Hickenlooper opposes Thompson Divide drilling


SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. (AP) — Gov. John Hickenlooper is siding with local opposition over proposed oil and gas drilling around the Thompson Divide near Carbondale, saying it's a beautiful landscape that should not be developed.

Hickenlooper, a former oil and gas geologist, surprised people attending a meeting in Snowmass Village Wednesday when he criticized the federal Bureau of Land Management for leasing the land for drilling.

"I get it. 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," he said.

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 for more time to develop their natural gas wells in the area. Both companies own leases that are due to expire this spring.

The companies currently have a legal right to the leases because they were issued by the BLM. The BLM did not respond to the criticism.

Hickenlooper said the Thompson Divide Coalition, a nonprofit made up of a diverse group of drilling opponents, has the right idea in trying to purchase the leases. 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.

The Aspen Daily News (http://tinyurl.com/abprhev ) reported that Hickenlooper said he still thinks a deal is possible.

In 1986, the governor lost his job as an oil and gas geologist. He went on to become a successful restaurant entrepreneur, but he has continued to support oil and gas development in Colorado.

Recently, Hickenlooper threatened to sue any municipality that bans oil and gas development in city limits, saying state regulations trump local control.

The governor said 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.

Local resident Lee Mulcahy interrupted the beginning of Hickenlooper's speech, criticizing him for his association with oil giant Halliburton and his support for fracking fluid. 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.

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.

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Information from: Aspen Daily News, http://www.aspendailynews.com


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