‘There’s a light there now’
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A drilling rig visible on the skyline atop the Roan Plateau is seen by some as a harbinger of unwanted development.The rig is drilling one of three wells bored this year on private leases on top of the Roan Plateau, just west of the landmark sandstone pinnacles called Anvil Points. It’s also easily seen from Interstate 70 on the 3,000-foot plateau northwest of Rifle.
The rig “is a signal to the rest of the valley” of what could take place on the plateau, said Duke Cox, a Silt contractor and president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance. “I hope it sends a message that if you haven’t paid attention to the issues, now is the time to pay attention,” he said. Cox, who lives on Silt Mesa, said he’s watched “the horizon to the west for many years.” “There’s a light there now,” he said. “I know it will go away … but the air coming from that spot won’t ever go away.”
The Roan Plateau is at the heart of the national debate over oil and gas development. In 1997, the federal Bureau of Land Management took possession of the plateau from the Department of Energy with the understanding that oil and gas leases would be issued for the area.Among the fears expressed in the more than 70,000 public comments received by the bureau about its plan for the Roan Plateau plan was that drilling along the rim would seriously degrade the scenic view of the plateau locally known as the Bookcliffs.The Williams company has held “a few thousand acres of private leases” on top of the plateau since 1989 and has five producing wells there, said Dave Cesark, environmental specialist for the company. Three wells, high above the gas fields of the valley floor, were drilled to approximately 11,000 feet, Cesark said, which almost doubles the amount of time – 20 to 30 days – it takes to drill a well along the Colorado River, he said.
“You can see it from I-70, but it’s very temporary, only for 20 to 30 days, after that it will disappear,” Cesark said. Also concerned about the high profile rig is Steve Smith, of Glenwood Springs, assistant regional director of the Wilderness Society. His group has appealed a federal decision to grant Williams a special right of way to use the Cow Creek road to access its leases. “I am disappointed that this first drill rig on the Roan Plateau regardless of land ownership is so conspicuous. … It flies in the face of public concern to protect our scenic backdrop,” Smith said, adding it is indicative of how oil and gas companies “will behave up there.”