EcoFlight provided an aerial tour of the Thompson Divide to a group of media students from Colorado Mountain College who were doing an investigative journalism project focused on the leasing issues in this area south of Carbondale, Colorado.
The 221,500 acre Thompson Divide area is at risk to oil and gas development approaching from the west. As a mostly intact ecosystem, it provides enormous value to the community. Not only does it contain critical wildlife habitat and provide clean air and water, the Thompson Divide contributes $30 million dollars a year to the local economy and supports nearly 300 Colorado jobs. Locals identify with this pristine area, as it represents the heritage, culture, source of food and a way of life for Coloradoans.
The Thompson Divide issue continues to evolve in 2014, with an independent study released in February that found there to be "little to no economic viability for the drilling of oil or gas wells on the leases within the Thompson Divide area" - all the more reason to allow for lease buyout and expiration. The BLM has acknowledged that most of the leases it sold in the area were issued illegally and without proper environmental review or roadless-area protections; they are therefore committed to doing an environmental review of the illegal leases.
Last year, Senator Bennet introduced the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act which will permanently withdraw future leases from the area and allow existing leases to expire or be sold for the purpose of protecting the land for its existing values. And after flying with EcoFlight to see the landscape for himself, Senator Udall signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill.