County Roan Plateau hearing draws hundreds | PostIndependent.com
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County Roan Plateau hearing draws hundreds

Dennis Webb

Garfield County commissioners hoping to hear opinions on how the Roan Plateau should be managed got an earful Wednesday night.About 200 people jammed the commissioners’ Glenwood Springs meeting room in hopes of helping the county take a position on the plateau’s management. Many of them wore red “Save Roan Plateau” stickers and called for keeping natural gas drilling off the plateau top.Bob Millette, of Glenwood Springs, who helped found the Roaring Fork Group of the Sierra Club, said the plateau’s rare plants and other environmental resources deserve protection.”Why spoil all of this for the profits of a few?” he asked.Representatives of environmental groups told commissioners most of the gas in the plateau planning area could be reached without drilling on top. But industry officials said that’s not good enough.”Folks need to realize that there is no insignificant gas reserve these days,” said Duane Zavadil, who works for Bill Barrett Corp. and spoke on behalf of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association.Zavadil said even the Bureau of Land Management’s preferred draft alternative for the plateau is flawed. It would defer drilling on the plateau top until an 80 percent threshold of drilling expected during the 20 years of the plan occurs on surrounding lowlands. But the industry might not reach that threshold during the plan’s life, Zavadil said.”We could indefinitely forestall development” on top if the BLM adopts the deferred drilling plan, he said. He said the congressional legislation transferring the plateau to the BLM in the late 1990s directed that drilling be allowed on top.Zavadil said the industry would prefer to use directional drilling to drill up to 390 wells from the 39 well pads the BLM would allow on top under its preferred alternative. The BLM’s preferred draft plan projects 51 wells being drilled on top over the plan’s life.The industry could drill on top using existing roads, he said.Drilling on top would produce hundreds of millions of dollars in lease bonuses, royalties and taxes for state and local governments, Zavadil said.Steve Soychak, district manager with Williams Production RMT, a leading natural gas producer, said the United States is overreliant on oil from nations that harbor terrorists.”The more natural gas we can produce as a nation, the more secure we will be,” he said.But Clare Bastable, of Carbondale, of the Colorado Mountain Club, said Garfield County already is drilled heavily for natural gas.”We are supplying a lot of energy for the nation, and we need a balance,” Bastable said.County commissioners accepted comments Wednesday as they prepare to offer the BLM the county’s views on how the plateau should be managed. Commissioner John Martin noted that the county will be evaluating the draft plan further before taking a position.”This is why we’re listening and not debating,” he said.Jamie Connell, field manager for the BLM in Glenwood Springs, kicked off the meeting with an overview of the draft plan. Showing an aerial photo of current drilling that is peppering private land at the base of the plateau, she said drilling on top would not result in such a density of well pads.”I assure you it could not happen,” she said to skeptical chuckles from many at Wednesday’s meeting.”You can laugh if you want but I’m tell you it is not the case,” she said.Carol Bell, whose ranch south of Silt is being drilled for gas, showed commissioners a photo of gas development there. She said use of directional drilling is resulting in fewer, but bigger, well pads.”I think this gives you a bit of a picture of what we are potentially looking at on the (plateau) top, and it makes me very nervous,” she said.Soychak noted that seven Williams wells already have been drilled on top.”The reason they’re hardly ever mentioned is they’re very hard to see due to the reclamation of the wells,” he said.George Bauer, of Silt, questioned assertions that drilling on top would destroy much of the backcountry recreation opportunities on the plateau top.”You drive past the well site and get out on your bike and off you go,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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