Mountain slopes in fall in Colorado.

County requests methane capture rule return in proposed Thompson Divide withdrawal

Letter to USFS stresses importance of capturing the seeping greenhouse gas

January 4, 2024

Garfield County has requested that the “methane capture” rule be reinstated into the proposed Thompson Divide Withdrawal Project, which would remove 224,713 acres of federal land from “all forms of entry, appropriation, and disposal” under public land, mining, and mineral and geothermal leasing laws.

The county submitted a comment letter to the United States Forest Service (USFS) on its draft environmental assessment (EA) and finding of no significant impact (FONSI) on the Thompson Divide withdrawal, following the Biden Administration’s additional restrictions on the area that removed methane capture.

“The county is disappointed, despite acknowledgement that recent ozone monitoring data in cities near the withdrawal application area during the last several years show ozone levels remain just below the established health standard of 70 parts per billion (ppb),” the county’s letter notes. “The EA and FONSI fail to acknowledge the air quality and climate benefits of allowing methane capture at coal mine sites within the withdrawal area.”

Capturing methane helps mitigate environmental impacts from uncontrolled methane gas leakage in areas with existing coal mines. Methane is a greenhouse gas, which contributes to increased ground-level ozone levels.

“In talking to Sen. Bennet and his staff, we were encouraged that methane capture would be included in what was considered the CORE Act at that time,” said Commissioner Tom Jankovsky. “It would be a benefit to the public if we could have methane capture within this area on federal lands.”

The county has remained consistent in its message that methane capture is vital in the Thompson Divide. In summer of 2019, the Board of County Commissioners posed no objection to the Thompson Divide portion of the proposed Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act, which aims to protect more than 420,000 acres public land in the state. While the proposed bill prohibits new oil and gas development in areas important for ranching and outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, the board stressed that methane capture be allowed in the Thompson Divide.

The Thompson Divide withdrawal area encompasses a relatively small portion of Garfield County, ranging from Glenwood Springs south to Carbondale, and larger areas of Pitkin and Gunnison counties.

“The commissioners would like to see this ‘methane capture’ rule placed back into effect in any new withdrawal decision by the USFS to reflect its original position,” the letter states.

The board approved the comment letter unanimously, 2-0, with Commissioner John Martin excused from the meeting.