Drilling on top of Roan Plateau not necessary
Energy developers could access at least 90 percent of the natural gas reserves in the Roan Plateau planning area without drilling on public lands on top of the plateau, environmentalists say.They base that conclusion on an internal document prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.Called a reasonable foreseeable development document, or RFD, it outlines the amount of gas development that might be expected in the planning area northwest of Rifle if there were few limitations in place.Environmental groups, and municipal governments in Garfield County, have called for keeping drilling rigs off the plateau top to protect big game and endangered species and the areas scenic nature.They want about 40,000 acres declared off-limits to drilling, with energy development being allowed on about 33,000 surrounding acres.Altogether, the Roan Plateau planning area under study by the BLM totals 127,000 acres. That includes about 73,600 acres with federal minerals available for oil and gas development, and 18,000 of those acres are currently leased.Even under the environmentalists proposal to protect the plateau top, 3,382 billion cubic feet of gas reserves would be available because its beneath the surrounding planning area rather than the plateau top, environmentalists say. They obtained that figure from the RFD, which also estimates that only 353 billion cubic feet underlies federal land on the plateau top, or about 9 percent of total reserves in the planning area.Altogether, even with private lands thrown in, the plateau top overlies only 14 percent of the total reserves.According to their own documents, BLM confirms that the majority of the resource is available from drilling at the base, leaving the critical wildlife habitat and undeveloped public lands on top alone, Steve Smith, a Glenwood Springs consultant to environmental organizations, said in a news release issued by area environmentalists.roan plateau: see page 3roan plateau: from page 1The BLM is planning to issue a draft environmental impact statement on the planning areas management early this year.Theyll get most of the gasSmith argues that pushing for drilling on the plateau top is excessive, due to the comparatively small amount of gas beneath it and the environmental impacts the drilling would cause.He also thinks that the gas under the plateau top will eventually be accessible via directional drilling from the surrounding lowlands.Ultimately, I think theyll get most of the gas thats directly below that top without actually having to go up there, he said in an interview.Directional drilling from below would eliminate having to go up there and drill back down, he said. The gas under the plateau, like other gas reserves in the area, is located below the level of the Colorado River level, he said. Reaching it from the top will require drilling through an extra 3,000 feet of earth.Even if drilling is approved on top of the plateau, Smith believes it wouldnt begin in earnest for quite a few years. Prior to that, producers will focus on lower-elevation drill sites that have year-round access and dont require as many vertical feet of drilling.Smith would rather see the plateau kept off limits at least for now, while policymakers keep an eye on the natural gas market, new directional drilling technology evolves, and a better understanding of the ecology of the plateau top is obtained.But the energy industry believes the time is now to get access to the whole plateau, Smith said. He said the Bush administration supports energy development in places like the Roan Plateau.I think the other side wants to get this drilling on the top approved because they feel this is their time to do that. They want to build on that momentum.Plateau not so pristineGreg Schnacke, executive vice president of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said the industry has always recognized that some areas of the plateau will be off limits to drilling. Still, he said, the Roan Plateau was set aside decades ago expressly for energy development.It was administered as an oil shale reserve by the U.S. Department of Energy before being transferred to the BLM in 1997.Even if the reserves under the plateau top are comparatively small, drillers should be able to access them, Schnacke said. That would require doing so from the top, in many cases using existing roads, he said.Clearly, its a harsh environment. It isnt going to be easy to get to some of these areas up there, he said.But he said drilling on top remains feasible from an economic standpoint.I think the industrys been putting forward balanced, responsible ideas about how it might proceed, he said. He said reclamation would be better on top than on surrounding lowlands because the top gets more rain and snow.Schnacke questions just how pristine the plateau top is. Already, there are 200 miles of roads up there, and a lot of uses occurring, he said.He also considers environmentalists to be hypocritical in their position on drilling, after they previously pushed for using more clean-burning natural gas in power plants.I dont know how their positions changed from that to, we cant go out and develop more natural resources in the ground.Natural gas is where it is. Its not conveniently on the dark side of the moon somewhere where no one needs to deal with it, Schnacke said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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