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Aspen Public Radio news keeps you up to date with the latest information on the environment. From the debate over gas/oil drilling in the valley to water and wildlife - you will find our on-going commitment to those stories here.

Big Checks for Thompson Divide Advocates


The Aspen Skiing Company has given a combined fifty thousand dollars to organizations working to prevent oil and gas drilling in the Thompson Divide. Aspen Public Radio’s Elise Thatcher has more.

You may see more photos and mineral surveys of the Thompson Divide in the coming months. That’s because of a large grant from a Aspen Ski company nonprofit. The Environment Foundation has given a combined fifty thousand dollars to Wilderness Workshop, EcoFlight, and the Thompson Divide Coalition. It’s the largest grant of its kind from the Foundation... and EcoFlight President Bruce Gordon says it’s going to make a difference right away.

“We’ll be flying politicians, media representatives and concerned citizens over this area. We have been doing this through the years. However we’re really stepping up our efforts.”

Like the group’s recent aerial tour [of the Divide] for Senator Michael Bennet. Gordon says the Aspen organization will now do two or three times as many flyovers as before. EcoFlight will also use its ten thousand dollar grant to shoot and produce more photos and videos of the Divide.  The Thompson Divide Coalition got twenty thousand dollars. The group plans to spend some of that on better understanding the oil and gas resources on the Divide. Zane Kessler is Executive Director for the Carbondale group.

“We’ll be analyzing the geology and the formations within this area from a broader perspective, and really, no pun intended, drilling down into the details to identify what some
of these specific individual leases might be worth on the open market.”

Information that could prove valuable for the group’s overall goal.

“Ultimately that’ll help us get to a point with industry where hopefully we have a market based price that we can agree on for a buyout effort.”

The third recipient of the grant money is Wilderness Workshop. They’re also based in Carbondale... and also got twenty grand for their work to protect the Thompson Divide. Dave Reed is Communications Director.

“There’s a tremendous desire on the part of this whole valley wide community to help out, and people are coming to us offering to help in all sorts of ways. So this money will help us pay for our new community organization, who’s supporting these citizen efforts.”

Like recent sign-making gatherings, and yoga and bike events designed to raise money for preserving the Thompson Divide. Reed says it’s good the Ski Co grant came through--because the Wilderness Workshop took a gamble earlier this spring. They already hired that community organizer without knowing they’d get the money.

“But it had to be done, I mean if you recall six weeks ago, the suspension decision hadn’t been made, and we were looking at a May 31st expiration date for these leases, and a ton of stuff had to be done to rally the public. And so, thank God this money’s coming in.”

Earlier this month, Wilderness Workshop and others filed an appeal regarding oil and gas leases on the Thompson Divide. The BLM is reviewing the appeal and may respond by a week by next Monday May 20th. Agency spokesman Steven Hall explained the next step.

“The state director could decide that the suspensions shouldn’t have been granted and reverse that decision, which would then set off a whole set of considerations, in terms of how to address the potential expirations of the leases, a variety of things. Or the BLM state director could say: you know what the decision was right, we followed the right process, and we stand behind the decision.”

The state BLM director is Helen Hankins. Again, Steven Hall.

“As always, at any point in time, someone can file a lawsuit in federal court, and choose to have their concerns address via the judicial branch.”

Late last week, the Denver Post reported SG Interests decided to drop one 2500 acre oil and gas lease. It was not included in the leases appealed by Wilderness Workshop and others. The Thompson Divide Coalition said SG dropping the lease is a step in the right direction. But, Executive Director Zane Kessler says it doesn’t come close to resolving the larger controversy-- over oil and gas drilling in the Thompson Divide.