Commissioners hammer out final comments on Roan Plateau plan
As the deadline for taking a stand on the Roan Plateau management plan nears, it appears the Garfield County Commissioners still are not all on the same page. Throughout the process, commissioners Larry McCown and John Martin have been in closest accord, with commissioner Trési Houpt a holdout for curtailed oil and gas development.The commissioners wrestled with the wording of their comments to BLM Monday.Houpt argued for consideration of what has been termed the Community Alternative development plan for the Roan Plateau proposed by a coalition of environmental groups earlier this year. McCown and Martin said that since that plan was not part of the BLM’s alternatives outlined in its draft Resource Management Plan it should not enter into the commissioners’ considerations. The Community Alternative would have the BLM defer all gas leasing on top of the plateau during the 20-year life of the management plan, unless the gas can be extracted through directional drilling so the land on top is not disturbed. That plan still would allow development of between 85 and 99 percent of the natural gas likely to be produced from the plateau planning area in the next 20 years. Also earlier this year, the towns of Carbondale, Silt and New Castle voted unanimously to support the Community Alternative over the five draft federal alternatives for managing the plateau. McCown said he would not choose one of BLM’s preferred alternatives for managing the Roan.”I won’t endorse an alternative,” he said.However, the commissioners do agree in principle with a plan for unitized development proposed by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Oil and gas on top of the plateau would be offered in 2,500-acre leases but would be developed by one operator sharing costs and revenue with the lease-holders. The rest of the lease-holders would share in the proceeds from the gas production as well as the costs of getting it out of the ground. Such an approach would probably not work on the bottom because federal lands are mixed with private and some land already has been leased.Drilling would be confined to the ridge tops where roads already run. Surface disturbance would be limited to 1 percent of the area of the plateau top, approximately 340 acres at a time, so if the operator wanted to move on to another ridge, it would have to reclaim all or a portion of the allotted acreage in order to do so.”A lot of what DNR came up with I agree with. … Now we’re talking orderly and reasonable development, but there are still questions hanging,” Houpt said.Houpt suggested the idea of 340 acres of maximum area of disturbance be studied further, but McCown countered that the time for study is over since BLM expects the county’s comments by next week.Much of the county’s concerns about the RMP revolve around access to the plateau by oil and gas operators. McCown said he wants the county to be involved in the BLM’s travel management plan for the plateau. Of particular interest is the main access road to the plateau.Three major access roads, the JQS Trail that goes up the face of the cliffs in Garfield County; Cow Creek, a narrow road that comes to the top from the northeast in Rio Blanco County; and a road running up the East Fork of Parachute Creek all have their supporters and detractors. Both counties and the town of Parachute are worried about impacts to those roads, one of which is in each of their jurisdictions.McCown suggested Cow Creek road, if it becomes the main access point for oil and gas operators, be paved from its intersection with the Piceance Road to the top of the plateau. Cow Creek is currently the subject of litigation between private landowners at the bottom of the road and the BLM, which this year granted access to Williams for drilling a number of gas wells. The Fazzi family has objected to allowing heavy truck traffic on the road.”I’m not comfortable with using Cow Creek as long as it is still under debate,” Houpt said.McCown said a heavy hauling standard should be applied to the access road, wherever that might be.The commissioners will review their final comments Sept. 19 and send them on to BLM next week. BLM expects to gather the cooperating agencies once again to discuss the preferred alternative management plan before it becomes public.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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