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County crafts comment letter

The Garfield County Commissioners worked to choose their words wisely Monday as they penned a comment letter to the Bureau of Land Management on the Roan Plateau Environmental Impact Statement.While they were careful to keep the letter focused on technical issues, the commissioners also debated the larger issues of potential gas development on top of the plateau. Among the thorny issues they wrestled with were possible phasing of natural gas development on top of the plateau and legislation that may mandate drilling there. Congress passed the Transfer Act in the mid-1990s when the Naval Oil Shale Reserve on the Roan Plateau was transferred from the Department of Energy to the BLM. According to some interpretations, that act mandates that drilling be allowed on top. If the act mandates drilling, then it would negate public comments suggesting a no-drilling alternative.The commissioners also raised questions about one element of BLMs preferred alternative that would prevent drilling on top of the plateau until 80 percent of the resource is developed in the lowlands.Phasing of development is within BLMs power, said senior county planner Randy Russell, who is advising the commissioners on the letter. Theres no issue there. The issue was if BLM can cap the number of wells to be drilled per year; that may not be within BLMs power. This was an issue commissioners felt should be further clarified.He also suggested the letter ask if leases extend for the duration of the resource management plan or longer. Russell believes they have a life of their own.Leases are a property right and essentially are in perpetuity, he said. Thats a good question to bring up.The commissioners also considered 30 bullet points Russell brought up as possible comments on the EIS. Commissioners Larry McCown and John Martin rejected many of the points over Commissioner Trsi Houpts objections. Among the rejected points Russell suggested is that a case for future gas development is not clearly presented and that levels of production in the immediate surrounding region area are not given.Martin said there is a clear need for more production and that hed heard consumption is 26 percent greater than production.McCown and Martin expressed concern that requests for specific funding of BLM management and monitoring of gas development, as well as enforcing its regulations, may not be feasible given the way the BLM budgets its dollars. But some lease stipulations may allow revenues to fund those activities.That issue was left open, Russell said.McCown and Martin also rejected discussing management alternatives in the letter, saying that would amount to choosing a preferred alternative.We dont want to go there; were trying to keep the doors open; were trying to stay neutral, Martin said.The letter also includes a request that the EIS discuss potential oil shale development on the plateau, which encompasses the Naval Oil Shale Reserve.The development of oil shale benefits local governments more than natural gas, McCown said. Money from oil shale is distributed locally but drilling on top could preclude oil shale development.Russell agreed: We need more definitive sense of those constraints.Houpt said she is not ready to take a position on oil shale development on the plateau. The letter will confirm that more information about oil shale development is necessary.McCown also took issue with an assertion in the EIS that there is a housing shortage for gas industry workers.Their projections are not consistent with todays number As living in the heart of the area (Rifle), Im not seeing housing conflicts, he said. There are vacancies all over, he said.A final draft of the letter will come to the commissioners at their April 4 meeting, and they will either adopt or revise it. The letter must be in the BLMs hands by April 11.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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