Drilling getting closer to top of Roan Plateau? | VailDaily.com

Drilling getting closer to top of Roan Plateau?

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., and Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, are backing away from attempts to prevent gas leasing on the top of the Roan Plateau. They instead plan to introduce legislation partly based on recommendations by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter.

The Salazars’ proposed legislation, which was crafted with the help of U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, who is Eagle County’s congressman, would direct the federal government to implement two of Ritter’s proposals for boosting environmental protections during energy development on the Roan. Ritter announced the proposals in late December.

“The Roan Plateau is a very special place for us here in Colorado. It is one of the most diverse wildlife habitats we have in our state. It is one of those places we absolutely have to protect,” Ken Salazar said Tuesday during a conference call with reporters. “I will not allow the Western Slope or any part of our state to become the sacrificial zone for oil and gas development.”

The Salazars, who are brothers, plan to submit their legislation in both the House of Representatives and the Senate when they return to Washington on Jan. 15.

The proposed legislation also would transfer an estimated $80 million in the Anvil Points oil shale trust fund back to Colorado and the Western Slope. About $20 million is needed to clean up the Anvil Points Superfund site north of Rulison.

The proposed legislation would direct $40 million in “spillover funds” to water and land conservation efforts and roads impacted by oil and gas development in Garfield and Rio Blanco counties, according to the Salazars.

Included in the Salazars’ proposed legislation is a requirement to increase the designated areas of critical environmental concern in the current Bureau of Land Management plan for drilling on the Roan from its current 21,034 acres to about 36,000 acres.

Ritter also called for phased leasing rather than leasing all the federal lands at once. The Salazars’ legislation would require phased leasing.

Jon Bargas, manager of communications for the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, said he applauded the Salazars’ goal of striking a balance between energy development and preserving public lands in the Roan.

“At a time when the country is suffering from rising energy costs, unemployment, and fears of a recession, we are glad to see the Salazar brothers and Rep. Udall are beginning to recognize the importance of this important domestic energy resource,” Bargas said.

Ken Neubecker, vice president of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said any legislation to increase the protection of wildlife is a positive step.

But he added, “It is still not as good, in my mind, as not allowing drilling at all (on top of the plateau). That is the only way to guarantee protection of the wildlife and aquatic resources.”

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