BLM: 500 wells possible on Roan Plateau |

BLM: 500 wells possible on Roan Plateau

Dennis Webb
GSPI News Editor

An internal Bureau of Land Management document reports that 500 natural gas wells could be developed on top of the Roan Plateau over the next two decades if there were few limitations on drilling.

But a BLM official says the agency won’t consider such dense drilling there.

“It’s what would happen if we leased every acre, maybe, and had no stipulations up there,” said Steve Bennett, associate manager of the BLM’s Glenwood Springs Field Office.

Steve Smith of Glenwood Springs, a field representative for the Western Colorado Congress environmental organization, said he wants to take the BLM at its word that it would not allow that much drilling on the plateau, located northwest of Rifle.

“It’s crazy – the terrain up there would be really wrecked if that level of development were to happen,” said Smith.

Bennett said the projection, contained in a document that outlines what is called a reasonable foreseeable development study, or RFD, is intended to show what development could take place on the plateau if there were no constraints on it.

The BLM prepared the study as part of its work in creating a draft environmental impact statement regarding management of the plateau, including for energy development.

“It’s kind of a supporting document that is generated as part of the EIS process,” he said.

The draft EIS, which will present several management alternatives and identify a preferred one, is expected to be released in November.

The drilling projected in the RFD is not a management alternative, said Bennett.

“You wouldn’t see numbers that high in any of the alternatives,” he said.

Every alternative will take into consideration constraints on drilling, such as areas that would declared off limits to surface disturbances such as well pads, he said.

Even the RFD assumes that slopes with grades of more than 50 percent will be precluded from surface drilling, although directional drilling might be used to reach the gas below these areas.

The state Department of Natural Resources also has recommended making slopes of 50 percent or more off limits to drilling.

Environmentalists have called for no drilling on the top of the plateau, and area towns from Rifle to Carbondale have endorsed special protection for the plateau.

However, environmentalists concede that drilling is likely on the plateau.

Pete Kolbenschlag, Western Slope field coordinator for the CEC, has raised concerns about the RFD, both because of the number of wells it projects as feasible on the upper plateau, and the fact that the BLM has refused to release the document to the public.

The BLM has shared it with cooperative agencies, such as area communities, and Kolbenschlag obtained a copy from one of these agencies that he has provided to the media.

Bennett said the BLM considers the RFD an internal working document, and he fears that for the public to view it on its own, without understanding the context in which it was created, would create unwarranted concerns about plans for the plateau.

Such concerns make Bennett all the more anxious to see the draft EIS get into the hands of the public, “instead of everybody getting pieces like this and wondering what’s going on. People are hungry for information,” he said.

Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516

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