Testing of water near Thompson Divide reveals very high quality

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News August 15, 2014

Study to serve as baseline data if drilling occurs

A new study released Thursday indicates that water in the area surrounding the Thompson Divide is uncontaminated by chemicals.

The data is intended to serve as a baseline for future studies if oil and gas companies develop in the Thompson Divide. The Thompson Divide encompasses 221,000 acres of relatively pristine federal land outside of Carbondale where oil and gas companies are making moves to drill. The study was performed by the Roaring Fork Conservancy, analyzed by Dr. Robert Moran of Golden and commissioned by the Thompson Divide Coalition, a nonprofit made up of a range of stakeholders in the area.

The samples were taken around the Fourmile Creek and Thompson Creek watersheds. The first samples were taken between September 2009 and August 2010 and a second sampling was taken last year between February and October.

The samples indicate that the water in the area is cold and highly oxygenated, with minimal amounts of sediment and low concentrations of dissolved chemicals.

“In short, the water quality of both studies show that they are very high quality waters,” Moran said. “There is no evidence of industrial development at all either organic or inorganic.”

It’s unusual for communities to collect water quality data before development occurs in an area, Moran said. Typically, oil and gas companies will test waters surrounding oil and gas wells after drilling has already begun, he said.

“There’s a general trend in the conduction of water sampling, and it is for industry to be collecting their own samples,” Moran said. “That creates a lot of dissent among groups.”

The study, which is funded by the coalition, can be useful in the future if development occurs, he said.

Zane Kessler, executive director of the Thompson Divide Coalition, hopes the baseline study will serve as a disincentive for oil and gas companies to develop in the area, he said.

“We are working as hard as possible to prevent oil and gas development,” Kessler said.

In April, the Bureau of Land Management announced it would grant a two-year extension on 25 leases in the Thompson Divide area as the federal agency drafts an environmental impact statement to address National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) deficiencies identified by the Interior Board of Land Appeals for 65 leases on the Western Slope.

Two oil and gas companies — SG Interests and Ursa Resources Group — have pending development proposals that will not be analyzed by the Forest Service and BLM until the EIS is completed. Continuing the suspension of the leases pauses the 10-year deadline leaseholders have to begin developing the sites.

“The [Thompson Divide Coalition] is making sure the BLM considers these findings in their review,” Kessler said.

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