Council: Don’t drill top | PostIndependent.com
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Council: Don’t drill top

Dennis Webb

Glenwood Springs City Council voted Thursday night to oppose natural gas drilling on top of the Roan Plateau.Council also decided to become a formal cooperating agency in the Bureau of Land Management’s ongoing effort to create a 20-year management plan for the plateau.With council’s action, Glenwood Springs became one of the first local governments to take a formal position on the BLM’s draft management plan for the plateau. However, all of the municipalities in Garfield County previously had supported protecting the plateau top during a more preliminary portion of the planning process.The BLM late last year offered five draft alternatives for managing the plateau, northwest of Rifle. Its preferred draft plan would defer drilling on the plateau top until a threshold amount of drilling occurs in the surrounding baselands. That isn’t good enough for several council members. Council member Dan Richardson said deferred drilling shows a desire to protect the top, “yet we’re saying I can enjoy it but my son can’t enjoy it after he’s in high school.”Fellow council member Bruce Christensen argued strongly on behalf of protecting the top.”I do feel very strongly that there’s a resource to be protected out there,” he said.He also voiced concern about what he considers to be abuse of property owners by the gas industry on private property.”People’s lives are being destroyed, from what I’m hearing out there.”In the case of the Roan Plateau, “this land belongs to the people and it should be protected as well,” Christensen said.Council members Dave Merritt and Joe O’Donnell voted against the resolution approved Thursday night, urging council to defer action on the issue until council members could look at it more closely and hear from the gas industry. A BLM official and environmentalists spoke about the plan to council Thursday.Environmentalists say evolving directional drilling eventually could enable the gas under the plateau top to be reached without locating well pads on top.”I’d like to hear from industry, what they’ve got, what they can do,” O’Donnell said. Yet he shares concerns about the industry’s impact, calling Grass Mesa south of Rifle “a mess” due to drilling.”I sure don’t want to see that happen on the Roan Plateau,” he said.Richardson said he welcomes industry’s input. “But I think actions speak louder than words and they’ve been screaming at us.”While voting for Thursday’s measure, Richardson urged council to consider the matter more closely later, and make a more detailed recommendation to the BLM. The agency is accepting comments on the draft plan until March 4, and hopes to issue a final plan by October.Mayor Larry Emery said council action was warranted Thursday night based on its past position on the plateau. He said the issues remain the same, and deferred drilling only delays the impacts on top.”It’s kind of a feel-good term but it doesn’t do any good when all the dust settles,” Emery said.Dean Moffatt, a Glenwood Springs resident and board member for the Western Colorado Congress citizens group, also called for the plateau’s protection.”I think that the Roan Plateau is our poster child, and now that Garfield County is a sacrifice zone to natural energy policies, it’s very, very important to protect the plateau,” Moffatt said.The city agreed to become a formal cooperating agency at the urging of Steve Bennett, associate field manager for the BLM’s Glenwood Springs office. Other agencies that now have that status include Rifle, Parachute, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties, and the state of Colorado. The status gives them an extra level of participation in the plan’s development. For example, the agency will share the results of its ongoing public comment period with those agencies, “to allow them to better decide how they want to guide us,” Bennett said.Contact: Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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