Remember all the discourse and disclaimers several years ago about drilling for natural gas on the Roan Plateau?
I certainly did last week, after a U.S. District Court judge ruled the plan the Bureau of Land Management came up with - after about four years of meetings, public comment, tours by everyday citizens and elected officials, and enough news stories by yours truly to kill at least hundreds of trees - didn't consider an alternative backed by local communities, including Rifle.
That alternative would have had companies recover the gas beneath the surface through directional drilling from wells on the edge of the plateau and leave the top of the plateau, at least the public lands portion, free from drilling.
The judge also ruled the BLM did not sufficiently address cumulative effects of drilling on air quality from drilling on both public and private land in the area, and failed to consider potential ozone impacts.
Environmental groups sued in 2008, after the BLM approved a phased drilling plan for the Roan, including the top of the plateau.
What I recall after the BLM announced its decision four years ago was that no one seemed happy. Well, maybe the BLM, I guess, since they could finally move on to something else. But the industry, conservation groups and sportsmen's groups all said the plan didn't meet muster.
At the time, I thought meant it was a pretty good plan. I've always thought that a compromise should do just that, leave all parties thinking they gave up something but accomplished something else in the end.
But I also realized even before the plan was announced that it would end up in court, one way or the other. That's just the way our society works, I guess.
We've all seen how things have changed since then in terms of gas drilling. Whether you think that is good or bad is up to you. With natural gas prices so much lower, I can't see a rush to drill on top of the Roan. But, who knows.
Whether or not the BLM now comes up with something different is up in the air. They may not, according to the judge. But they have to take a closer look at the plan Rifle and others thought made the most sense, and look closer at the other impacts in the ruling.
So we'll see. The top of the Roan is a mishmash of visual areas. You have wide open, pristine pastures of trees and fields, and you have roads and fences, even a few structures.
I always thought the BLM had a tough job coming up with a management plan.
I imagine it's still going to be a challenge.
- Mike McKibbin is the editor of the Rifle Citizen Telegram.