Salazar: Roan Plateau suit may soon be settled in Colorado |

Salazar: Roan Plateau suit may soon be settled in Colorado

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, left, Sen. Mark Udall, center, and Sen. Michael Bennett join other members of the Colorado Congressional delegation in a ceremony to dedicate Rocky Mountain National Park wilderness, Thursday, April 9, 2009 near Estes Park, Colo. (AP Photo/The Fort Collins Coloradoan, Rich Abrahamson)
AP | Fort Collins Coloradoan

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colorado ” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says there could be a resolution soon in a lawsuit over drilling on western Colorado’s Roan Plateau.

Salazar said Thursday he couldn’t discuss the details because of the “active litigation,” but said a possible settlement is being discussed.

Several environmental groups are challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s plan to open more public land on the Roan Plateau to oil and gas development.

“We’ll see if we can arrive at a resolution that better protects the resource and better protects value to taxpayers,” said Salazar, a former Colorado senator.

Salazar said Interior officials are also reviewing the Bush administration’s plan to open nearly 2 million acres in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah to commercial oil shale development. He said the agency will determine whether to move forward with the plan and regulations approved last year or take a “new direction.”

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Salazar, tapped by President Barack Obama to head the Interior Department, was in Colorado to mark a new law designating most of Rocky Mountain National Park as wilderness. As a senator, he co-sponsored a bill to set aside the park 70 miles northwest of Denver as wilderness.

While in the Senate, Salazar also supported Gov. Bill Ritter’s alternative plan for drilling on the Roan Plateau. The BLM rejected the proposal, which would have kept more land off-limits to direct drilling and would have leased the land in phases over several years.

Ritter said he believed phased leasing would generate more money for the federal and state governments, which share royalty revenue.

The BLM auctioned off all the available parcels for a total of $114 million last summer. It was the agency’s highest-grossing sale of onshore leases in the lower 48 states.

The plateau about 180 miles west of Denver is prized for its wildlife and pristine backcountry as well as its oil and gas deposits.

The BLM has defended its plan, saying it was developed after several years of study, public meetings and input. Federal officials say the plan contains several safeguards, including spacing well pads at least a half-mile apart, with “development to be constrained on existing roads and ridges on top of the plateau.”

The BLM’s 20-year management plan for the plateau projects 193 well pads and 1,570 wells on the public land over 20 years, including 13 pads and 210 wells on top.

Salazar is taking another look at the Bush administration’s plan for commercial oil shale development in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado. Salazar and other Colorado officials previously criticized pushing forward with regulations and a plan for oil shale while the technology to free the oil from the rock is still being tested. Industry officials acknowledge that commercial development is at least a decade away.

Critics say the oil shale plan doesn’t adequately address the potential environmental, economic and social impacts of development. There are questions about how much water and energy will be required for production.

Salazar said he supports continued research and testing of oil shale technology to find some of the answers.

The Department of Energy has estimated that the shale in the three states contains a total of up to 1.8 trillion barrels, with about 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil. The largest reserves are in western Colorado.

One thing he’s not reconsidering, Salazar said, is his belief that coal will continue to be an important energy source. His recent remarks about the potential of wind power riled the coal industry and Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, whose state is the nation’s top coal producer.

Salazar said during a public hearing in Atlantic City, N.J., this week that if fully realized, wind power off the East Coast could produce about 1 million megawatts of electricity, or the equivalent of 3,000 medium-sized coal-fired power plants.

Freudenthal on Wednesday said the prospect of wind power replacing coal in the nation’s energy portfolio “ain’t going to happen.”

Salazar, an advocate of renewable energy, said Thursday that he was talking about wind power’s potential. He said he also supports developing technology to capture and sequester greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants.

“Coal provides 50 percent of the country’s electricity,” Salazar said. “There’s no doubt it’s going to continue to be an important part of the energy portfolio.”

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