Interior grants state more time to review Roan Plateau plan
DENVER (AP) – The state will get more time to review a federal plan authorizing nearly 1,600 new wells on the Roan Plateau, prompting Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar to drop his hold on the nomination of a new director for the agency that wrote the plan.Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne told Salazar Friday that he would give the state a 120-day extension to study the Bureau of Land Management’s plan, released in June.Federal officials have said the management plan for the Roan Plateau, a western Colorado landmark, has already gone through more than six years of public hearings, review and comments. But Gov. Bill Ritter, who took office in January, asked for more time because his administration was new to the process.Salazar pledged earlier this week to keep blocking the confirmation of James Caswell as BLM director because the Interior Department rejected his request for the 120-day extension. The Democrat said he will drop his hold on the nomination in exchange for assurances that the BLM will respond in good faith to any concerns the state raises.”This is an important first step in working toward a cooperative relationship between the state of Colorado, the BLM and the Interior Department with respect to how we move forward on the Roan Plateau and responsible oil shale development and oil and gas leasing issues,” Salazar said.He had said he didn’t want the federal government running roughshod over the state’s concerns about the impacts of developing the Roan Plateau. The formation that rises as high as 9,000 feet is prized for its abundant wildlife and pockets of pristine backcountry as well as its large natural gas and oil shale reserves.Wells have been drilled on private land on top of the plateau and around the base.”We are going to take these 120 days and conduct a thorough and careful review of the issues. We won’t prejudge the outcome,” said Evan Dreyer, Ritter’s spokesman.Greg Schnacke, executive vice president of the trade group Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said the BLM’s management plan for the Roan Plateau is the most restrictive ever approved by the agency.”At some level, this project is getting to the point of becoming difficult in the minds of many companies to justify going forward,” Schnacke said.Industry, consumer and business groups see the Roan Plateau as example of “pure political impediments” being used to block efforts to boost domestic energy production, Schnacke said. The plateau contains enough energy to provide power for the state of Colorado for a quarter century, he said.The BLM plan covers most of 73,602 acres of federal land on top of the plateau and below the rim. It authorizes up to 1,570 new gas wells over 20 years. Of those, up to 210 wells drilled from 13 pads would be allowed on the top, which several environmental, hunting and fishing groups and area communities want off-limits to development.The BLM delayed a decision on management of areas deemed environmentally sensitive – about 30 percent of the federal land – because the areas weren’t adequately described in the plan. The agency is taking comments until Aug. 10 on those sites.Colorado Reps Reps. Mark Udall and John Salazar, both Democrats, are sponsoring a provision in the federal energy bill that would prohibit drilling on federal land on the top, but not the sides or around the base.The House was expected to debate the energy bill Saturday.”If I had my druthers, the entire Roan Plateau – the top, sides, wintering range – would be off-limits to anything but appropriate recreation and wildlife habitat,” Udall said Friday during a conference call with reporters.Udall said he believes accommodations have been made for energy development, noting that hundreds of wells have been drilled in western Colorado and thousands more are planned.”We’re doing more than our fair share to provide energy,” Udall said.
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