BLM, cooperating agencies move toward agreement on Roan
BATTLEMENT MESA – The Bureau of Land Management and its cooperating agencies on the Roan Plateau Resource Management Plan got a few steps closer to consensus Friday. Although the meeting was to discuss protection for wildlife, talk turned to oil and gas development on the gas rich plateau. Among the cooperating agencies are the cities of Rifle and Glenwood Springs, the town of Parachute, Rio Blanco and Garfield counties, and state agencies, including the Division of Wildlife and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.Notably, the group appeared to agree that surface well spacing, staging and having one operator drill and produce gas for a number of lease holders may be the keys to the best management of the plateau. Although the RMP considered 40-acre surface well spacing, discussion in the last three meetings of the cooperating agencies has suggested 160 and even 640-acre spacing be considered, because they could reduce impacts to wildlife and other resources.Seasonal staging of development could be part of the final management mix. The group agreed that a suggestion put forth in some public comments on the RMP, which proposed that 80 percent of the bottom of the cliffs be developed before opening the top to leasing, was not a good idea. Such development would drive mule deer from their winter range.”It was one of the most disturbing (suggestions) during the public discussion that people were willing to sacrifice the bottom as long as nothing was done on top,” McCown said. “The public perception was feed the bottom to the wolves.””It’s not when you do it, but how you do it,” said John Broderick of the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Better to develop both areas while taking into consideration when they are being used by deer and elk.The size of leases could also be considered. Although the BLM cannot lease large areas, by using an approach called “unitization,” one operator could be responsible for extracting gas over a large number of leases. It would then divvy up the proceeds with other lease holders. That way, there could be a limited number of well pads, roads, pipelines and other associated structures.”Leasing large blocks would require legislative action,” said Jamie Connell, manager of the BLM field office in Glenwood Springs, which prepared the RMP. But, “we can force (operators) to pool into a unit. I think it would be beneficial. I only want to deal with one company up there.”Other discussion at Friday’s meeting revolved around the variety of management prescriptions outlined in the RMP. Those restrictions, such as no surface occupancy, controlled surface use and designated Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, would either prohibit or limit oil and gas development. The agencies found those restrictions somewhat confusing since they overlap in the RMP, and in the case of ACEC, prescribed management was unclear.Juggling management of various resources, from scenic landscapes to mule deer herds, is part of the balancing act, Connell said.”There will be a significant amount of land that can’t be developed (under those restrictions). The idea to have a well every 40 acres will not be the case if you protect many of these values,” she said.”We don’t have to protect everything identified on these maps,” said Steve Bennett, assistant BLM field office manager. “What we’re looking for is advice on (which to protect).”And the cooperating agencies were ready to give it.
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