Coalition’s data ‘flawed’
Post Independent Staff
Drilling projections in the Roan Plateau draft EIS are flawed because of outdated information that needs to be corrected, the Campaign to Save the Roan Plateau says.
The coalition of environmental groups and concerned citizens has formally requested the Bureau of Land Management to re-examine its data on natural gas drilling in the Roan Plateau draft Resource Management Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement.
In a letter to the BLM dated June 2, the group said the EIS underestimates the amount of energy development likely to occur on the Roan Plateau because it used dated information. The request, which the group filed under the Data Quality Act, asks the BLM to use “accurate, updated, and forward-looking information to provide the public and decision-makers with clear depiction of likely energy development in the Roan Plateau.”
“We believe the whole data is so flawed it calls into question the whole foundation of the document,” said Pete Kolbenschlag, Western Slope field coordinator for the Colorado Environmental Coalition.
Under the EIS process, the BLM has 60 days to respond to the request from its date of receipt, April 11. The deadline for the BLM’s response is Friday.
Kolbenschlag explained that the DQA is a relatively new law, passed in 2001, that requires federal agencies “to use verifiable information that is correct and objective and has utility for the public.”
The BLM based its conclusion on a reasonable foreseeable development document, or RFD, prepared in February 2004, which outlines the amount of unlimited gas development that might be expected on the Roan Plateau northeast of Rifle. The RFD “significantly underestimates” how quickly drilling will be allowed to proceed and the scale of the development over the 20-year course of the plan, the group said in the June 2 letter. In consequence, it said, the preferred Alternative III outlined in the EIS downplays the rate of drilling and underestimates its potential impacts.
Further, the BLM based its projections on 2001 data that Williams Production, the largest producer in the area close to the Roan Plateau, would drill between 50 and 100 wells per year in the planning area, Kolbenschlag said. However, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Williams has said it expects to drill 300 wells in 2005 and 450 in 2006.
Environmental groups and municipal governments in Garfield County have called for keeping drilling off the top of the plateau to protect wildlife and the area’s scenic nature.
The Roan Plateau was set aside as a strategic oil shale reserve for the U.S. Navy at the turn of the 20th century. The Department of Energy administered it before the property’s transfer to the BLM in 1997.
For the short term, Kolbenschlag said he hopes the BLM will let the public know how it plans to correct the data. Over the long haul, the BLM should have a document that adequately accounts for the amount of drilling that is likely to go on in the planning area.
“We would like them to complete additional analysis,” said Steve Smith, a Glenwood Springs resident who is involved in the Campaign to Save the Roan. Industry is “expecting to drill 3,000 wells on top of the Roan Plateau,” he said. Analysis should be based on that assumption.
“We want BLM to put that out so citizens have the full picture.”
Depending on how the BLM responds to the group’s request, “there are any number of things we can do next,” Kolbenschlag said, including going up the chain of command in the Department of Interior, which oversees the BLM. They could also challenge the conclusions of the final EIS as well as the Record of Decision that formally adopts the preferred alternative.
“I’m not saying we’ll do that,” he added. “We will watch everything that happens on the issue very closely.”
Steve Bennett, assistant field manager with the BLM in Glenwood Springs, acknowledged the office received the request and will respond to it by Friday.
“We’re not ready to respond to it yet. We’re looking it over,” he said. “We will prepare a response within the next couple days … We haven’t decided how we will respond yet, and until we have that discussion, I can’t say anything.”
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The BLM will conduct an environmental assessment of the proposed wells needed to begin the NEPA process on the larger quarry expansion.