The citizens of western Colorado deserve better

By Brent Helleckson


Dear Editor:

Representative Tipton, through his proposed "Western Colorado Lease Exchange and Conservation Act of 2016," has chosen to ignore the citizens of western Colorado in favor of a pork barrel giveaway to two Texas oil companies. The proposed act exchanges leases in the Thompson Divide area, leases that are expired or soon to expire and under threat of cancellation by the BLM, for brand new 10-year leases in the North Fork watershed near the Hubbard Park area north of Paonia.

While pitched as a "discussion draft," and applauded by some as a proposal from which to pursue compromise, there has, despite repeated opportunity to engage the citizens' groups of the North Fork, been little discussion and even less indication of a willingness to compromise. Intended to resolve the long-running conflict over oil and gas exploration in the Thompson Divide near Glenwood Springs, the proposal provides no permanent protection for that area. Instead it seeks to get private companies out of a dubious investment at the expense of local communities that have consistently urged meaningful and permanent protection. Further, in a move reminiscent of the "Halliburton Loophole" exempting the oil and gas industry from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Mr. Tipton's proposal exempts his Texas oil beneficiaries from the National Environmental Policy Act and it forbids the BLM from following its guiding legislation, The Federal Lands and Policy Management Act of 1976, when making the exchange.

Adding insult to injury, the proposed act strips the residents of the North Fork of even the minimal protections afforded by laws on the books since the 1970s. Thus, while ignoring the concerns of the citizens near the Thompson Divide, Mr. Tipton simultaneously ignores the concerns of their citizen neighbors in the North Fork. In a final sweep of hubris, Mr. Tipton's proposed act forces the Forest Service and the BLM to manage all leases, nation-wide, under the terms of whatever management plans were in existence at the time each lease was granted, making it illegal for the Forest Service or the BLM to update their management practices in light of new scientific information or new realities on the ground. The primary beneficiaries of the proposed act seem to be 1) SG Interests, a Texas-based oil and gas exploration company owned/managed by Russell Gordy, and a significant contributor to Mr. Tipton's election campaigns; and 2) Ursa Resources Group, a Texas-based oil and gas exploration and production company. The "Western Colorado Lease Exchange and Conservation Act of 2016" is bad policy, and bad legislation, poorly written. The citizens of Western Colorado deserve better.

Brent Helleckson Farmer and
Winemaker
Paonia