Candidates debate the fate of Roan Plateau
Before Friday, John Salazar had seen the Roan Plateau as most people have – from the windshield of his car while driving by on Interstate 70.On Friday morning, he saw it from a different vantage point – in an airplane, which provided him his first glimpse of the forested terrain on the top of the plateau northwest of Rifle.”It’s beautiful up there,” Salazar, a private pilot, said after landing at the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport. “I’d love to come hunting there; it’s very pretty.”The Bureau of Land Management is currently considering a management plan that would govern natural gas drilling on the plateau. Even before Friday’s flight, Salazar had joined with environmentalists and local communities in calling for drilling to be limited to the plateau’s base.”I think it would be absurd to drill on top of the plateau,” Salazar said.Environmentalists say the BLM’s own estimates show most of the plateau’s gas reserves can be tapped by drilling directionally from below.While head of the state Department of Natural Resources, Walcher also helped lead the call for use of directional drilling on the plateau. However, some of it would occur on top under the DNR plan.The DNR recommended to the BLM last year that drilling on the plateau top be limited to one well pad per 160 acres. It suggested that any greater underground drilling density be achieved through directional drilling, with multiple wells being drilled from each well pad. Limiting drilling density would be a new policy for the BLM.While environmentalists criticized the state for recommending any drilling on the plateau top, they said at the time that the DNR’s proposed drilling density probably would be less than the BLM would end up allowing.Walcher said if he is elected to Congress, he would insist that local voices be heard when the fate of the plateau is decided.Walcher believes he took a balanced approach to natural gas development while director of DNR. He said he helped persuade the legislature to pass a bill requiring that buyers of property be notified when gas and mineral rights underground are owned separately from surface rights. He said he also was instrumental in the state requiring the industry to do more directional drilling.”That gives us a tool in places like the Roan Plateau we didn’t have before,” he said.The key wherever drilling occurs is that it be done in an environmentally acceptable manner, Walcher said.”I don’t think it has to be us against them. I don’t think it has to be environment versus economy,” he said.Salazar wants to see a balance between energy and environmental interests when it comes to drilling.”It’s not an all-or-none issue,” he said.Salazar worries about U.S. dependence on foreign oil. He believes it is a matter of national security to develop domestic natural resources, but in a responsible way. As a result, he is taking a keen interest in the natural gas drilling taking place in western Colorado, particularly in Garfield County.He also backs developing renewable energy.”It’s important that we don’t destroy our environment, so future generations can enjoy it like we have,” Salazar said.”It’s important that we don’t destroy our environment, so future generations can enjoy it like we have,” Salazar said.
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