County: Halt gas leasing on plateau, for now

by Lynn BurtonPost Independent Staff

The Garfield County commissioners did not endorse wilderness for the Roan Plateau Monday, but called for the BLM to halt gas leasing for now, prevent drilling scars on the Roan Cliffs and limit gas wells to one per 640 acres.With input from citizens, the commissioners finalized their comments on Roan Plateau management sought by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The federal agency is developing a management plan for the area northwest of Rifle.Main points of the county’s position include:-The county does not recognize “any compelling need” to lease any further areas on the plateau top for oil and gas exploration “at this time.”-The county is open to the concept of “triggers” that would allow phased oil and gas development when the need is “clearly identified.”-No further visual impacts should be allowed on the cliffs, and no visual degradation of the cliffs shall be allowed in any alternative. That includes “any pipeline, or utility incursion, and no `stair-stepping’ of drilling sites onto the cliffs from the valley floor.While the town boards in Rifle, New Castle and Glenwood Springs endorsed Alternative F, which would set aside 21,400 acres in three wilderness areas, and close 43,254 acres to oil and gas leasing, the commissioners declined to do so.Environmentalists, including the Wilderness Society, have endorsed Alternative F. In a letter to the county commissioners, Wilderness Society assistant regional director Suzanne Jones said Colorado BLM Director Ron Wenker told her group Alternative F will not be included in the agency’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement.BLM officials in Denver could not be reached for comment.Rifle Mayor Joe Clugston attended Monday’s Garfield County commissioners meeting, and said all the local municipalities favored Alternative F. “And now the BLM says `We’re going to eliminate it,'” Clugston said.The Roan Plateau sits northwest of Rifle, and was transferred from the Department of Energy to the Bureau of Land Management in 1997. With the transfer, the BLM was instructed to draft a management plan for the 73,600-acre piece of property, which operated as a naval oil shale reserve under the Department of Energy.Environmentalists have said the plateau is one of the most biologically diverse areas in Colorado, includes some threatened plant and animal species, and should be protected from energy development. They call instead for directional drilling to occur from the plateau’s base.At the urging of former BLM employee Bob Elderkin, the commissioners called for no more than one well pad for every 640 acres.One advantage to the 640-acre well spacing is it will reduce impacts to wildlife, Elderkin said.Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext.

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