Rush to drilling seen by governor |

Rush to drilling seen by governor

Kara K. Pearson/Post Independent file photoA gas rig worker trips pipe on a well near West Rifle with the Roan Plateau looming in the background.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” A rush to allow drilling on the Roan Plateau has dealt a blow to relations between Colorado and the federal government, Gov. Bill Ritter has written in a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.

Ritter criticized Kempthorne for refusing to give him more time to comment on the issue and instead issuing a decision Friday to let drilling proceed.

The Democratic governor also said he planned to work more actively in support of efforts by U.S. Reps. Mark Udall and John Salazar, both Colorado Democrats, to make funding cuts that would prevent natural gas leasing on the plateau in the coming year.

Ritter, who took office in January, was turned down in his request for 120 days to review and offer input on the plan. His letter Monday cited the fact that 98 percent of the 75,000 comments received by the Bureau of Land Management were in opposition to drilling on top.

“Your decision to ignore these public comments and limit my administration’s participation in the process undermines efforts to build what should be a cooperative federal/state relationship,” Ritter wrote to Kempthorne.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has pointed out that its restrictive plans for drilling on the plateau are based on a proposal by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. But Ritter noted that the department’s proposal was made before he was elected and took over a new state administration.

“The citizens of this state are concerned about the management of our public lands, the scale and pace of energy development, and the ability of our local communities to plan for and manage the extraordinary impacts that inevitably come with increased leasing and extraction,” Ritter wrote.

“I am intent on finding the balance between protecting our environment, traditional economies, and special places (while) allowing and planning for responsible future oil and gas development,”

He said it is “a misstatement of the law” for the Bureau of Land Management to say it was required by Congress to allow expedited gas leasing on the plateau after the Roan’s management was transferred to the agency.

“Nothing in the statute prevents deferring leasing decisions during the near term. In fact, BLM’s original set of alternatives for the Roan included ‘no-drill’ options,” he wrote.

He said drilling on the Roan could be deferred while plans to drill tens of thousands of wells on nearby public and private lands go forward.

The land bureau and Interior Department have not commented on Ritter’s letter. Chris Paolino, deputy press secretary for the Interior Department, said he had not yet seen the letter.

“When we do get it we’ll take time to review it and make sure that we get back to the governor appropriately,” he said.

Steve Smith, assistant regional director of the Wilderness Society, said he thinks Ritter’s reaction was “completely fair and understandable” after the Interior Department turned down his request for time to look at the issue, and then immediately decided to allow drilling.

“A governor deserves that kind of opportunity to study that kind of public policy and to get respect for the simple kind of request that he put in,” he said.

Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, disagreed.

“The fact is that there’s been adequate time for state and local officials to weigh in on this public plan. It’s been 10 years in the works and there’s been ample opportunity for public involvement, including involvement by the state,” he said.

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