1,570 wells OK’d on Roan Plateau
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER ” Federal land managers on Friday authorized up to 1,570 new natural gas wells over the next 20 years on the Roan Plateau, a western Colorado landmark prized for its energy reserves and wildland qualities.
The Bureau of Land Management decision covers 73,602 acres ” federal land on the top and sides of the plateau. Some wells have already been drilled on private land.
Some Coloradans, including two congressmen, have called for a moratorium on drilling on the plateau over concerns about damage to the environment and to hunting and other activities. Drilling on the Roan has been hotly debated because of the abundant wildlife and several pockets of pristine backcountry there.
A second decision will be issued after a 60-day comment period on areas considered to have critical environmental concerns, or about 30 percent of the federal land. Land bureau officials said that decision was delayed because the areas weren’t adequately described.
Agency spokesman David Boyd said it would likely be six months at the earliest before any leases are offered.
Friday’s decision follows about seven years of review, public hearings and meetings among area elected officials on energy development on the plateau, near the town of Rifle about 100 miles west of Vail.
Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., had asked the land bureau to extend the comment period on the final environmental impact statement, issued last September, because the agency revised an option it recommended in an earlier draft plan. He said the public didn’t get a chance to comment on the revision.
“I continue to believe that this area should not be opened to drilling for oil and gas at this time,” Salazar said Friday.
The agency’s preliminary plan proposed deferring drilling until 80 percent of wells below the plateau’s rim were developed, which the agency said could take 16 years. The revision was written after discussions with agencies, including the Colorado Division of Wildlife, which was concerned that delaying work on the top would intensify development at the bottom, which is crucial winter range for big game.
The modified recommendation attempts to minimize the impact of development on the top by staging and clustering development so that no more than 1 percent of the plateau’s 34,758 acres would be disturbed at any one time.
Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, who took office in January, had requested more time study the plan. His predecessor, Bill Owens, had commented on the proposal and helped shape the final version. Many top officials at the state Department of Natural Resources are new and weren’t part of the discussions with land bureau.
“Gov. Ritter is extremely disappointed we were not given adequate time to review and respond to such an important public policy issue,” Ritter’s spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “This is a new administration and we have an obligation to carefully review the proposed management plan for the Roan Plateau. There was no immediate crisis that warranted the final decision being issued today.”
Ritter supports an effort by Colorado representatives John Salazar and Mark Udall to delay federal funds for the land bureau to oversee Roan Plateau development for a year and to prevent new projects in the meantime.
Udall said what the agency calls a compromise “was not fully vetted with the public” and doesn’t reflect the strong opposition of many communities, environmentalists, hunters and anglers to drilling.
Udall and John Salazar said they will continue to try to delay the leasing.
The plateau could provide enough natural gas for 4 million homes for the next 20 years, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association trade group.
It also generates an estimated $5 million a year for the local economy from hunting, fishing and wildlife watching, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Industry officials were pleased that a decision was made to move forward with leasing, although one called it “probably one of the most restrictive plans ever developed.”
“It’s going to be a real challenge for some companies to be able to justify bidding on the projects,” said Greg Schnacke, executive vice president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade group.
Industry officials say a 1997 law transferring the Roan Plateau from the former Naval Oil Shale Reserve to the Interior Department made clear the land should be leased for oil and gas development.
Environmentalists dispute that.
“Roan Plateau was supposed to be managed on Colorado’s terms, not by executive fiat from Washington, D.C.,” said Mike Chiropolos, an attorney with Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates.
The leasing plan projects up to 13 well pads and 210 wells on top of the Roan. Multiple wells can be drilled from one pad. Wells would be clustered on pads spaced a half-mile apart.
Land bureau spokesman Vaughn Whatley said no facilities would be allowed roughly 50 percent of the area to protect wildlife and habitat. Whatley said that includes most of the land designated as having critical environmental concern along with another 17,336 acres.
The gas in those areas could be reached by drilling wells offsite and angling the bit underground.
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