Roan Plateau energy leases may be protested |

Roan Plateau energy leases may be protested

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colorado ” In about two weeks, Clare Bastable will learn whether the Bureau of Land Management will put up for sale natural gas leases on the Roan Plateau.

That is something the conservation director for the Colorado Mountain Club has been fighting for a long time and, she says, will continue to try to stop even as full-scale leasing for the Western Colorado landmark appears to be on the horizon in little less than three months.

“Every time the public or Congress or the governor has intervened on this and asked for protection, the Bush Administration has plowed forward,” Bastable said of actions to open the area up to natural gas drilling. “So the fact that the (BLM is) pursuing leases of the Roan is not a surprise. It is certainly disappointing, but again, I don’t believe that this battle is over.”

Steven Hall, a spokesman for the land bureau, said the agency is expected to announce in about another two weeks all the leases that will be offered at its quarterly lease sale, which is scheduled for Aug. 14. Hall could not definitively say whether Roan leases will be included.

About 52,000 acres are expected to be available for leasing in all of the Roan Plateau Planning area. About 34,750 of those acres are on top of the plateau. Regulations could prevent energy companies from putting many wells on top of the plateau, requiring them to drill from farther away.

Bastable and several other environmental groups saying that they are pursuing “every tool” in their “toolbox” to prevent that leases, she said.

Those tools, said Bastable, include working with Colorado’s congressional delegation to craft legislation to protect the Roan Plateau, and the possibility of litigation.

“What this lease sale represents is the BLM completely turning its back on what our congressional representatives, what our governor and what our local communities and citizens have been asking for the last seven years on the Roan Plateau,” Bastable said. “I believe there is going to be a strong response to the announcement of the lease sale for the Roan.”

Marc Smith, executive director of Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, said that after a 10-year planning process in which many groups, including industry and environmental organizations, he was “pleased” that the land bureau will “begin to allow limited energy development on a tiny portion of the Roan Plateau.”

He said the land bureau’s plan for the Roan Plateau carefully balances energy development with conservation.

“The plan also permanently protects 38,427 acres from development, including nearly 23,000 acres of wildlife security areas identified by the Colorado Division of Wildlife,” Smith said. “In addition, drilling and related activities are limited from December through April in nearly 35,000 acres of critical big game winter range below the rim.”

According to the land bureau, there is an estimated 9 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas under federal lands in the Roan area, and it is estimated that federal revenue from oil and gas royalties and lease sales could generate $857 million to $1.13 billion over the next 20 years. Colorado would receive an estimated $428 million to $565 million in money generated from oil and gas extraction on the Roan.

“Part of what gets a little lost in this discussion is that the question of what do the leases garner is only the beginning of the federal revenue picture,” Hall said. “Because we also have the federal royalty, which applies to all the gas that is produced. So that can outweigh what the lease purchases could be.”

Support Local Journalism