Houpt asks for BLMs response to thousands of no-drilling comments | PostIndependent.com

Houpt asks for BLMs response to thousands of no-drilling comments

A large, unasked, and unanswered question finally got an airing Wednesday. About halfway through a meeting of local elected officials and government agencies gathered to advise BLM on its controversial Resource Management Plan for the plateau, Garfield County Commissioner Trsi Houpt asked whether BLM intends to accede to the requests of thousands who commented on the plan who called for no gas drilling here. Were dancing around a lot of things here, she said. We have 70,000 responses on drilling on the Roan Plateau. When are we going to have the discussion and lay all our cards on the table? Although invited by BLM to advise it in planning for the management of gas drilling on the plateau, its likely the group will not be able to reach consensus about the extent of drilling. Around the table at the cooperating-agencies meeting were representatives from Glenwood Springs, Rifle, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties and state agencies including the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the Division of Wildlife. I think weve come to the table with different assumptions, Houpt said. Despite Houpts framing of the question, BLM Glenwood Springs field manager Jamie Connell said some kind of activity will be allowed because BLM does not have an airtight reason for blocking it. The Bureau has to have a reason not to make land available for development, she said. She also assured Houpt that a decision had not been reached about drilling on the Roan Plateau. Steve Smith, assistant regional director of the Wilderness Society, who sat in on the meeting, agreed with Houpt. I think there is a gap here in this discussion. The focus is on comments by the cooperating agencies, but theyre not taking in detailed substantive questions and comments raised during the larger public comment period, he said. I think theyre missing some important comments. The BLM received a grand total of 74,906 comments, primarily over the Internet. The public comment period closed April 11. The largest group of letters supported environmental protection and called for prohibiting leasing and drilling for natural gas on the top and cliffs of the plateau. It also called for deferring leasing until gas extraction technology is developed that does not impact the land surface. About 1,000 e-mail comments called for a final management alternative that balanced recreational use of the plateau with gas development. It also urged the BLM to defer gas drilling until the development of nonimpactive technology. Only a small minority of the comments, less than 100, favored development of natural gas on the plateau. Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com

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