The price of gas drilling on the Roan
The Roan Plateau rises above the town of Rifle and I-70 atop a long wall of imposing cliffs. These cliffs are all that most people see, or think about, if they think about the Roan Plateau at all. The Plateau itself is something of a Lost World, unknown to most Coloradoans and to the hundreds of people who drive by it everyday. Unseen, beyond the top of the cliff wall is one of the most unique and special areas in the state.So why in the world would the BLM even contemplate allowing for extensive gas drilling all over the Roan Plateau? The base of the Roan Cliff wall is peppered with new gas wells. Some squeeze right to the edge of I-70. The view from the air is much more revealing, and disheartening. Well pads dot the landscape like some sort of skin rash, a pox on the land. Roads run like a complex and disorganized spider web between all these pockmarks. The Roan Cliffs make a spectacular backdrop to the devastated land at their feet. To extend this activity to the top of the plateau would be unconscionable.The Roan Plateau is cut by three major streams that have been identified by the BLM and wilderness advocates for their outstanding values. Trapper Creek, Northwater Creek and East Fork Parachute Creek have all been recognized as eligible for Wild and Scenic River designation and are listed by the BLM as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). Magpie Gulch and Anvil Points, both along the Cliffs and Rim of the Plateau, are also listed as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. These canyons and the high plateau that they dissect contain a richness and diversity of vegetation and wildlife that is hard to find anywhere else. The BLM report states “The unroaded nature of the area provides security among an array of habitat types important to a diverse array of species and is irreplaceable and exemplary in nature”.There are un-fragmented stands of ol- growth Douglas Fir and rare hanging gardens along seeps in the shale where “occurrences are more numerous and more extensive than anywhere else”. These hanging gardens “comprise nearly 62 percent of the total known occurrences,” in Colorado.And then there are the populations of genetically pure Colorado River Cutthroat Trout. Only small remnant populations of pure Colorado River Cut’s remain in the upper Colorado Basin (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico). Although the species is not listed as threatened or endangered, it is designated as a special status species and classified as a Sensitive species by both the US Forest Service and the BLM. It wouldn’t take much more loss to push these fish over the edge. The BLM report states that they “consider the entire watershed(s) in which these fish reside to be important for the long term functionality of vital ecosystem processes which maintain the habitats of these fish.” The report also states “these populations are unique, and irreplaceable”.Trappers Creek and East Fork Parachute Creek both drop off over waterfalls up to 200 feet high, among the highest in the state. The BLM report goes on to state “The diversity and stark contrasts resulting from the steep barren cliffs falling off to spruce fir forests create a National Park quality scenic attraction. Loss or impairment of this feature would be irreplaceable.” The East Fork canyon has been likened to Yosemite Valley.The Roan Plateau is a treasure that Colorado can ill afford to lose. The BLM report consistently states that the values; the vegetation, the wildlife habitat, the fish and the scenery are exemplary, unique and above all, irreplaceable. Opening the Roan Plateau to drilling would cost us far more than we would gain. Nearly all of the gas that drilling would get from the top can already be reached from the base, where the well pads and their road network already exist. Are we so desperate for this energy that we are willing to completely sacrifice such an incredible place as the Roan Plateau? If we are, than we might as well quit trying to save any of our natural heritage. The gas companies want to do it just because they think they can, that they have friends in high places and local priorities are secondary to their political clout and money. No one else, especially the local communities, want to see the Roan Plateau drilled.We who live here know that the Roan Plateau is priceless as it is, undisturbed and wild. The big energy companies from out of state, or from other countries, only see it for it’s “price”. Long after the wells run dry the maze of roads will still be clogging the streams with silt. The fish will be gone, their watersheds no longer able to support them. The shattered forests and scattered remnant herds of traumatized elk and deer will not recover in our lifetime.The energy companies claim that they can build roads and wells in a “sensitive” and “environmentally friendly” manner. A road is still a road; a well pad is still a large patch of shattered ground. I’ve worked with mining and energy companies in the field from time to time over the last 25 years, and I’ve learned well that their talk is far different from their practice. Once the leases are granted it will be business as usual, and if they’re caught in some violation they will simply pay the insignificant fine, after years of delay.By then the Roan Plateau will be gone and they will be moving on to the next publicly owned irreplaceable treasure that they might make a buck on. We, the owners, will again be left holding an empty bag.Ken Neubecker’s work can be read bi-weekly in the Vail Trail. Look for his next column in the May 20 edition. Contact him at email@example.com.
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