Gas lease sales on Roan could begin this summer
Post Independent Staff
RIFLE ” Natural gas lease sales for federal minerals underneath the Roan Plateau could come as soon as late this summer following a Bureau of Land Management decision announced Thursday.
Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, Democrats from Colorado’s Congressional delegation and area environmentalists, however, were disappointed in the BLM’s second management decision for the Roan Plateau, with some saying the agency flatly rejected the governor’s proposals for drilling in the area.
Almost immediately after the BLM announcement, Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., said he would introduce legislation that “will protect the unique landscape, wildlife and communities” of the Roan Plateau, which is northwest of Rifle.
Common criticisms of the BLM’s second Record of Decision for the controversial area were that it did not increase the acreage for areas of environmental concern (ACECs), and that the agency will not pursue phased leasing in the area.
In December, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources wrote a letter to the BLM asking that ACEC acreage be bumped up to 36,184 acres from 21,034 acres, a position the governor supported.
However, the BLM plan announced Thursday kept the acreage for ACECs at 21,034 acres.
The BLM plan for the Roan Plateau designates 38,470 acres as having a no-surface-occupancy stipulation, which means gas companies would have to directionally drill from other areas to extract the natural gas to minimize surface disturbances. However, the BLM can make an exception to the NSO stipulation.
Other protections for the Roan, according to the agency, include spacing well pads at least 1/2 mile apart, with “development to be constrained on existing roads and ridges on top of the plateau.”
The decision also limits surface disturbance on top of the plateau to 350 acres at any time. The BLM said that phased approach to development encourages innovation in minimizing disturbance and reclaiming disturbed areas.
“We are confident that we can have very restricted and limited mineral development in this area, as well as provide critical protections for fish and wildlife habitat, plants, special places, view sheds, recreation, while producing energy important to America,” said Stephen Allred, U.S. Department of Interior assistant secretary for land and minerals management.
Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., requested that the U.S. Department of the Interior give Ritter 120 days to review the BLM’s first Record of Decision, which allowed oil and gas leasing on the top of the plateau. That decision came in June of last year.
In December, Ritter returned with several proposals, which included increased protection of sensitive areas, more use of technology to minimize environmental disturbances and incremental leasing of federal lands.
The current federal plan for the Roan calls for all leasing to come at once ” rather than phased leasing, a position that Ritter had proposed. However, oil and gas development of the area would be phased, according to the agency.
“I strongly disagree with and am disappointed in the department’s decision not to pursue phased leasing and not to expand areas that would be off-limits to energy development on the Roan Plateau,” Ritter said. “We proposed a uniquely Colorado solution that struck a good balance and would benefit our economy, communities and energy industry, while minimizing the impact to our environment.”
Ritter said the BLM decision “is not an end by any measure.”
“We will now quickly begin discussions with Sen. Ken Salazar, Sen. Wayne Allard, Rep. Mark Udall, Rep. John Salazar and the rest of our Congressional delegation about possible legislative alternatives,” Ritter said.
Allred said the BLM plan has “essentially been able to meet all of the goals (Ritter) set forth, with the exception of (phased leasing).” One of the obstacles to phased leasing is whether federal law will allow the BLM to consider that approach, Allred said.
The future of the Roan Plateau has set off a wave of criticism between energy and environmental groups over how much money Colorado can receive from gas leases and royalties there, and how much natural gas is actually beneath the area.
An estimated nine trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas is under federal lands in the Roan area, and it is estimated that federal revenue from oil and gas royalties and gas sales could generate about $857 million to $1.13 billion, according to the BLM. Colorado would receive an estimated $428 to $565 million of money generated from oil and gas extraction on the Roan.
The BLM decision is equivalent to the agency giving Colorado a $1 billion winning lottery ticket, said Greg Schnacke, president and CEO of Americans for American Energy, a Golden-based energy organization that favors opening up the Roan Plateau to oil and gas development.
“The question now is, will Gov. Bill Ritter let the state cash in?” Schnacke said.
Clare Bastable, conservation director for the Colorado Mountain Club, echoed the concerns of some other environmental organizations by saying that the “BLM is not serving Colorado’s interests.”
“The BLM has come back and said no to the requests of the state of Colorado local elected officials, to sportsmen, to conservation groups, to congressional representatives, to our governor,” Bastable said. “Everybody has been on the same page saying that this landscape needs to be protected. Now it is the time for our congressional delegation to get bold and protect the Roan.”
With the completion of its second record of decision, the BLM will begin preparing for a lease sale later this year. Additional planning and environmental analysis “will be required before development on leases could occur,” the agency said.
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