This page gives a big-picture view of accomplishments and ongoing work to save the Thompson Divide and surrounding areas:
❱ Beginning in the early 2000s, during the “lease before you look” frenzy of the Bush administration, oil and gas leases were issued throughout the Thompson Divide and nearby roadless areas. WW and local governments engaged in these early lease sales, raising claims about the legality of BLM’s leasing practices.
❱ In 2007, in response to a lease protest filed by WW and Pitkin County, the Interior Board of Land Appeals rejected BLM’s sale of three leases in the Divide because the agency failed to comply with several environmental laws. In 2009, BLM cancelled the leases.
❱ By 2009, oil and gas companies held about 70 leases within the Thompson Divide area and dozens more in neighboring roadless areas. Many of the leases were illegally issued and WW engaged in diligent watchdogging of these problematic leases, using agency decision-making processes to challenge them.
❱ In 2009, WW pushed BLM to shrink a unit in the western portions of the Divide where leases hadn’t been developed in a timely fashion. This resulted in the elimination of thousands of acres of leases in 2011 that would have allowed new drilling in roadless areas. Since then, WW has been engaged in numerous industry-filed appeals trying to resuscitate the leases.
❱ In 2011, SG Interests and another Divide leaseholder (together holding 25 leases in the Divide) asked BLM to group all of their leases into units—which would enable them to hold them beyond their expiration dates without developing each lease. WW and TDC helped rally huge public opposition to these proposals, which played a role in BLM’s decision not to grant the unit requests.
❱ In 2012, the Thompson Divide Coalition sent letters of intent to leaseholders indicating that it would pay $2.5 million for all of the leases in the Divide—based on amounts leaseholders had paid to the federal government to purchase and hold the leases.
❱ Late in 2012 and early in 2013, as dozens of undeveloped leases in the Divide neared expiration, leaseholders asked BLM to suspend the lease terms and filed a handful of pretextual drilling applications to support the request. BLM granted the suspension requests and WW, along with local governments, immediately appealed the suspensions. In subsequent years, BLM renewed these suspensions several times. WW and partners continued to challenge the suspension decisions through administrative appeals.
❱ In 2013, after hearing resounding support for protection of the Divide from locals and local governments, Sen. Michael Bennet introduced the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act in the U.S. Senate. The Bill would permanently remove most of the Thompson Divide from availability for future oil and gas leasing. Congressman Tipton did not support the Bill and it was not passed into law.
❱ Also in 2013, BLM announced—after hearing from WW for years that the leases were illegal—to reexamine decisions to sell 65 oil and gas leases on the White River National Forest. This decision affected most of the leases in the Divide and dozens of roadless leases just west of the Divide. During the process, which lasted until fall of 2016, WW and its partners helped generate more than 100,000 public comments asking BLM to cancel the illegal leases and protect the Divide and roadless areas.
❱ In 2015, after another several years-long administrative process in which WW, TDC, and partners pushed hard for meaningful protections for the Divide and roadless areas, the U.S. Forest Service released a decision closing most of the Divide to future leasing and requiring that roadless areas be protected by any future leasing on the forest. The U.S. Forest Service decision should be effective for 20 years or so.
❱ In fall of 2016, BLM issued a decision formally cancelling 25 oil and gas leases in the Divide and adding strong new stipulations to other roadless leases outside the Divide. Industry promptly challenged the decision. WW moved to intervene in that lawsuit to defend BLM’s cancellation decision.
❱ In March of 2017, Bennet reintroduced the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act. This version of the bill included a permanent withdrawal for about 120,000 acres of the Thompson Divide from availability for future leasing. It also provided credits for leaseholders with leases in the Divide to relinquish those. WW worked with TDC and other partners to build support for the Bill, especially from Cory Gardner and Scott Tipton.
❱ In April of 2017, Wilderness Workshop filed a lawsuit challenging BLM’s decisions to suspend the SG leases in 2014, 2015, and 2016—decisions that kept the leases from expiring by their own terms. The lawsuit, filed along with sportsman groups, cattleman associations and local governments, was filed as an insurance policy in case a judge decided to overturn the Bureau of Land Management’s 2016 decision canceling 25 oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide.
❱ In June of 2018, the BLM and SG Interests reached a settlement agreement in SG’s lawsuit challenging BLM’s November 2016 decision to cancel leases in the Thompson Divide. The federal government agreed to pay $1.5 million to SG Interests in exchange for SG dropping its legal challenge of the lease cancellations. The settlement ended the threat of development on these leases and represents a significant victory for Wilderness Workshop, the Thompson Divide Coalition and numerous allied individuals and organizations who fought development of the illegal leases for years.
❱ In January of 2019 Senator Bennet and Congressman Neguse introduced the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act, which includes provisions that would permanently withdraw 200,000 acres, mostly within the Thompson Divide, from future oil and gas leasing. Like prior versions of the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protect Act, the CORE Act would also provide credits for leaseholders with holdings in the Divide wishing to relinquish those. Wilderness Workshop is working hard with partners to build support for this bill.
❱ Wilderness Workshop will continue to fight to protect Thompson Divide and nearby roadless areas. That fight will include opposing development proposals on leases in the Divide that have not been canceled by the BLM. It may include ongoing legal challenges to development proposed in the Divide. We will also continue advocating for a permanent legislative withdrawal of minerals in the area—so that we don’t forever have to guard against new drilling proposals there. Additionally, WW will continue to fight for the protection of surrounding roadless areas, which support values, like wildlife and recreation and ecosystem health, that make Thompson Divide such a magnificent place.