Protect public lands |

Protect public lands

Rep. Mark Udall and Rep. John Salazar
Vail CO, Colorado

In a recent column, Mr. Greg Schnacke, of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, criticized our effort to protect the Roan Plateau on Colorado’s Western Slope from additional natural gas drilling. Greg argues, among other things, that our actions will have adverse economic impacts for Colorado, and that the public process for the federal drilling plan was open and accommodated the concerns of local communities and recreation users.

We respectfully and forcefully disagree.

Greg’s arguments involve economic scare tactics that are deeply misleading because he fails to disclose that oil and gas companies have already locked up leases on millions of acres of federal lands in Colorado without putting them into production. He fails to fully disclose that the public process fell short of accounting for the value we place on protecting what is special about Colorado.

We fully support domestic development of our fossil fuels and respect that Greg’s job as an industry advocate is to urge more acreage for drilling. But it is important that oil and gas development take place responsibly and without turning Colorado into a pin cushion of drilling rigs.

The Roan Plateau is an area that is not only rich in natural gas, but also rich in wildlife, recreational opportunities and serves as a critical watershed for the Grand Valley.

So we authored legislation that would place a simple one-year moratorium on the Bureau of Land Management’s drilling plan for that portion of the Roan Plateau not already in production. We did so because the federal government failed to address local concerns and overrode a previously-drafted community plan that had broader public support.

Greg argues that there has already been a long public process underpinning the federal government’s drilling plan. He seems to believe that a bureaucratic process where federal officials largely ignore public concern and elevate gas production over other multiple uses, is a fair substitute for public input. We disagree.

Will holding off for 365 days result in higher energy prices and an irretrievable loss in state revenues? Only if one takes the absurd position that the Roan Plateau is critical to oil and gas development and only by ignoring the fact that there are already 4.5 million acres of federal lands under lease and approximately 1.3 million in production.

More than 3 million acres in Colorado are under lease but not in production. Seventy percent of these lands under lease are not in production and 60 percent of the drilling permits are not being used. There is plenty of acreage and plenty of gas to develop in Colorado without rushing to despoil the remaining portions of the Roan Plateau.

The Roan Plateau generates nearly $5 million annually for the local economy according to wildlife officials. It is home to some of Colorado’s most unique wildlife and habitat. Drilling for gas can certainly be managed in ways that are compatible with protecting these resources, but wildlife experts will tell you that the pace and intensity of drilling can have severely detrimental impacts on these other resources.

And not every place that can be drilled should be.

So, before we accept the federal government’s assurances about the drilling plan, doesn’t it make sense to involve the local communities most impacted by it?

Doesn’t it make sense to go slow when it comes to potentially damaging resources we cannot easily replace?

We think so, and that is why we have authored our legislation and hope that Colorado citizens agree that we need to strike a reasonable balance between protecting our land and developing finite resources like natural gas.

Mark Udall represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Eagle, Grand and Summit counties on the Western Slope.

John Salazar represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes Garfield County, home to the Roan Plateau.

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