Fighting for the Roan |

Fighting for the Roan

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Colorado Democratic congressional candidate John Salazar said Wednesday that if he is re-elected, it’s his hope that he and others in the Colorado delegation may continue the “fight” over the Roan Plateau.

Although leases for drilling in the area have been issued, there may be a possibility for a new administration and reorganized Congress to possibly change the drilling plan for the Roan, according to an attorney representing 10 environmental groups involved in a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management over the future of the area.

During a campaign stop in Glenwood Springs, Salazar said if he returns to Congress he hopes that members might address environmental legislation “where we can actually continue our fight on the Roan Plateau.”

“We don’t want to stop the extraction of natural gas on the Roan, what we want to do is just figure out a way where the state can actually get additional revenues,” said Salazar, a Democrat from Manassa.

Earlier this year Salazar, along with his brother U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo. and Rep. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, introduced legislation that called for “phased leasing” of federal mineral leases in the Roan Plateau Planning Area. Salazar said that this concept, based on a proposal by Colo. Gov. Bill Ritter, would have brought in more money to the state.

The BLM sold 31 parcels encompassing 54,600 acres of the Roan Plateau Planning Area in August for $114 million. The agency then issued the leases for that acreage on September 29, the same day 10 environmental groups filed a motion for a temporary injunction seeking to stop the BLM’s move and to prevent future drilling from the leases.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger, the judge overseeing the lawsuit against the BLM, declined to rule on the proposed temporary injunction, saying that both sides of the litigation have agreed that drilling in the area won’t begin until June.

That would give her enough time to issue a decision in the groups’ lawsuit, which contends the BLM didn’t analyze the long-term impacts or consider a reasonable range of alternatives for drilling in the area.

The battle of the Roan Plateau has been the center of controversy for almost seven years. It is estimated to hold about 8.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, which could provide the state with about $428 to $565 million in revenues over the next 20 years.

But many environmental groups say that area is home to critical wildlife, like the Colorado River cutthroat trout.

The controversial area is northwest of Rifle, within Salazar’s current congressional district. He is running for re-election against Wayne Wolf, a Republican Delta County commissioner. An attempt to reach Wolf late Wednesday was not immediately successful.

Eric Wortman, a spokesman for Salazar, said the Roan Plateau is a matter very personal to the congressman, and that he is going to follow development of the area closely.

“It has been leased, so that raises some issues about what can be done legislatively at this point,” he said. “I don’t know if you could roll that back, nor do I think that necessarily would be appropriate. But we can make sure (drilling) is implemented correctly.”

While many steps have been taken toward future drilling on the Roan, there may an avenue for Congress and a new presidential administration to weigh into the debate over the Roan Plateau to come up with a different management plan for the area, said Mike Chiropolos, an attorney representing the 10 environmental organizations suing the BLM.

“I think Congress still plays a role,” he said. “With the existing leases, what is done can be undone. Elections matter and have consequences.”

Chiropolos added that there are other areas where existing leases have been bought out.

“That generally happens on a willing-seller, willing-buyer basis,” he said.

David Boyd, a spokesman for the BLM, said if the agency gets different direction from Congress over the future of the Roan, the agency “will follow it.”

“The BLM’s position continues to be that our phased development approach is more environmentally sound,” he said.

“It may or may not generate more revenue, but it is more environmentally sound because it is a single operator approach on top of the plateau, which gives us greater control and reduces the need for more pipelines for different companies and related infrastructure.”

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, in an interview with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on Sunday, largely echoed the concerns that the Salazars and Udall have over the future of oil and gas development on the Western Slope. The presidential candidate told the newspaper he was “troubled by how the Bush administration approaches it, which seems to always have the scales tilted toward unbridled development without considering the views of local communities.”

John Salazar said that comment shows Obama is willing to work with Colorado to protect the people who are going to be in the area, long after oil and gas drilling is gone.

“We have to take in the views of local communities,” he said. “We are not against developing our natural resources, as a matter of fact, we are very supportive of developing it. The thing is that we need to do it right.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117

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