BLM issues decision on roan

Donna GrayGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. A controversial plan for managing the Roan Plateau above Rifle got an official green light from the Bureau of Land Management Friday. The agency issued a Record of Decision for about 70 percent of the 73,602-acre planning area that is rich in natural gas and prized for its scenery and wildlife.

BLM has projected 1,570 new wells could be drilled in the planning area, including 210 wells on top of the plateau, also known as the Naval Oil Shale Reserve, over 20 years. The actual number will be determined by the restrictions of a clustered, phased development that limits surface disturbance on the top to one percent or about 30 acres at any one time. Areas disturbed by drilling must be reclaimed before more land is developed. Directional drilling technology now allows up to 30 wells to be drilled from one pad.Federal oil and gas leases will be combined into an operating unit, which allows only one operator, acting for the lease-holders, to drill and bring wells into production.BLM Glenwood Springs field office manager Jamie Connell said she was relieved the plan had finally been adopted. “This planning effort has been extremely difficult. The area has a lot of complex resource challenges. I really do believe it’s a good plan that allows protection of ecological resources very well while it allows development of the energy resource.”Not covered by the decision are about 21,034 acres of proposed Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), about 30 percent of the federal land, which will be closed to drilling. A separate notice of ACEC designation is required because some technical descriptive information was left out an initial posting of the proposed ACECs on the Federal Register, Connell said. That notice will be published in the Federal Register Monday. There will also be a 60-day public comment period before a record of decision is issued for the ACECs.

The new resource management plan includes direction for leasing oil and gas hotly contested by environmental groups and local governments, which pushed for delaying oil and gas development on top of the plateau until the lands around the foot are tapped out.Forging a plan for management of the Roan Plateau included a series of meetings in Rifle in the summer of 2005 that included representatives of local governments and the Department of Natural Resources. The cooperating agencies ultimately approved the clustered, phased development plan.”We studied it as long as we could,” said Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, who participated in the meetings. “Ten years is long enough. It’s time to move on. I think it’s a good decision.”Leasing the Roan will be delayed until a record of decision is reached on the ACECs, Connell said. And it could be on hold for another year if Congress agrees to cut funding to Bureau of Land Management for leasing.

Colorado Congressmen John Salazar, D-Manassa, and Mark Udall, D-Nederland, have asked the House Appropriations Subcommittee to include a provision in the 2008 appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior that would in effect delay lease funding until the fiscal year beginning in October 2008.Both Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) and Gov. Ritter asked the federal agency to give them and the public more time to review the draft environmental impact statement that was published in September. The draft had revised an energy development option that was included in an earlier version of the plan.”I am extremely troubled with the decision announced today by the BLM,” Salazar said. “The top of the Roan Plateau is one of Colorado’s special places, and I continue to believe that this area should not be opened to drilling for oil and gas at this time.”I am also very disappointed that (Interior) Secretary Kempthorne ignored a request last month by Governor Ritter for an additional 120 days to review the Roan Plateau Management Resource Plan,” he said.

However, the decision was applauded by the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States (IPAMS).”We are pleased that, after a decade-long open and public process in which all stakeholders were given a seat at the table, the BLM is ready to allow limited and balanced energy development on Colorado’s Naval Oil Shale Reserves 1 and 3,” said IPAMS executive director Marc W. Smith.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 16605

dgray@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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