Regional: Bipartisan plea for end to Roan lease dispute |

Regional: Bipartisan plea for end to Roan lease dispute

The Roan Plateau rises above the Colorado River valley west of Rifle, as viewed during a 2012 flyover of the area sponsored by EcoFlight.
Post Independent file photo |

Republican Congressman Scott Tipton and county commissioners from Garfield and Mesa counties were joined Wednesday by three of Colorado’s leading Democrats in urging U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to approve a negotiated agreement in the long-running dispute over oil and gas leasing on the Roan Plateau west of Rifle.

A joint statement was issued by Rep. Tipton, Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet encouraging Jewell to sign off on the pending settlement worked out by conservationists, the energy industry and others.

The deal would involve canceling leases in some of the more sensitive areas on top of the Roan Plateau held by Bill Barrett Corp., while allowing development to proceed on other leases, including those at the base of Roan.

It’s a “unique opportunity” to resolve the controversy, and one that will “allow for responsible development of the plateau’s natural resources and protection of sensitive wildlife habitat,” according to a joint news release.

“This agreement represents the collaboration of the oil and gas industry, environmental organizations, many local governments, the state of Colorado and our respective offices,” wrote Tipton, Hickenlooper, Udall and Bennet in the letter, which was also endorsed by the Garfield County Board of Commissioners earlier this week.

“While the settlement requires a temporary drawback of state and federal funds, collaborators and the state of Colorado have committed to ensuring that local governments will not ultimately lose any resources they realized through the initial lease sale that prompted the litigation,” the joint letter continues.

“With this last important condition, the local governments in question support the proposed agreement,” it states. “We request that you take prompt action to finalize the proposed settlement agreement.”

The battle over how to balance development of vast natural gas reserves while protecting the natural qualities of the Roan Plateau has gone on for more than a decade.

The deal, also endorsed by Barrett and other companies with leases at stake, would settle a lawsuit brought by environmental groups over the Bureau of Land Management’s 2008 decision to lease about 55,000 acres on an around the Roan Plateau for oil and gas development.

Earlier this month, Garfield County commissioners signed a separate resolution supporting the pending settlement, so long as local governments are held harmless for any mineral lease payments that would have to be returned. Mesa County commissioners took a similar position.

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