According to the Post Independent, the Colorado Democrat reiterated his support for legislation that would prevent future development in the Thompson Divide and discourage current development there.
“Energy development is an essential part of this region’s economy and should continue as we work to meet our nation’s energy needs. But that development shouldn’t occur everywhere, and there needs to be a balance in these areas where it’s important to protect our high quality of life,” Udall said.
Udall came with allies.
Members of a green organization by the name of the Thompson Divide Coalition introduced the senior senator, the Independent reported.
Interestingly, the executive director of the group, Zane Kessler, has more than a passing familiarity with Udall. Kessler is a former staffer to Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, the junior senator for Colorado and sponsor of the bill that Udall has also cosponsored and endorsed at the Carbondale town hall.
Kessler declined an interview request for this story, but representatives for oil and gas interests said Democratic constituencies and politicians are thwarting development in the Thompson Divide for political purposes.
“When you look at the demographics of the greater Aspen area, the people with high-level incomes are driving the discussion not working-class people. It’s about politics, not the wisdom of the policy,” David Ludlum, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said in a phone interview Wednesday.
Senate Republican leaders said President Barack Obama’s administration has discouraged and delayed oil and gas development on federal land, and more broadly the continued delays of the Keystone XL pipeline.
“I think right now it’s mostly politics,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, chairman of the Republican Conference, said in an interview at the Capitol Tuesday.
“(Democrats) have a lot of groups who oppose development on ideological grounds, but they have an intensity problem with their base,” Thune said. “Anything they can do to help them they will. This is an election year.”
At issue on the Western Slope is a new federal review of 64 oil and natural gas leases in the White River National Forest, 25 of which are in the Thompson Divide. Some of the ten-year leases the agency has decided to re-review already have existing wells.
The stated reason for the new review or environmental impact statement was procedural: Officials with the BLM decided to conduct an environmental impact statement about the leases after another Interior Department agency ruled that the Forest Service’s issuance of the leases in 1993 was questionable.
BLM officials will hold the fourth and final hearing about the environmental impact statement at the De Beque Community Center Thursday at 4 p.m.
SG Interests, a Houston-based energy firm, holds 18 of the 10-year leases in the Thompson Divide. The company received a two-year extension for some of the leases in April, but the temporary agreement stipulates that the company cannot develop more oil and natural gas on the leases.
Environmental groups argue that oil and gas exploration is damaging to wilderness areas and economically unproductive.
Kessler’s organization hired a consulting group to conduct a study on the economic benefits of oil and gas development and claim the region’s rough topography and poor roads mute the effect of extracting resources from the leases, the Aspen Daily Times reported in February.
Yet supporters of the leases say there is a common thread among environmentalists’ arguments — an opposition to development on federal lands.
They note that natural gas development has declined even on federal onshore lands since 2009, the first year of the Obama administration. The amount of natural gas production on those lands dropped to 2,706 billion cubic feet in 2013 from 3,167 billion cubic feet, according to the Congressional Research Service.
“It’s a class issue,” Ludlum added. “It’s lower valley that needs the development for jobs vs. upper-valley which gets passive income.”