Roan document addresses Hubbard Mesa conflicts |

Roan document addresses Hubbard Mesa conflicts

The Roan Plateau looms over Rifle, as viewed during a 2012 EcoFlight flyover of the area.
Post Independent file |

A settlement agreement reached late last year between conservation groups, energy companies and federal land managers regarding oil and gas leases on the Roan Plateau west of Rifle is memorialized in a new draft Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Bureau of Land Management Tuesday.

In addition, the document considers options for managing conflicts between recreational target shooting and other recreational activities below the Roan Plateau rim in the Hubbard Mesa area.

“Because Hubbard Mesa is within the Roan Plateau Planning Area, we have a chance to address user conflicts in the area through the SEIS process,” Colorado State BLM Director Ruth Welch said in a press statement.

The proposed management plan doesn’t make any changes to recreation within Hubbard Mesa, but changes could be made later depending on public and agency comments, she said.

One of two upcoming public meetings in January to answer questions about the proposed new management plan will be specific to Hubbard Mesa recreational uses, including recreational target shooting.

The new draft analysis, which is subject to a formal 90-day public comment period, mainly addresses concerns raised in a 2012 judicial decision that stemmed from a legal challenge by a coalition of conservation groups to oil and gas leases issued under an earlier management plan.

The agency’s preferred alternative calls for allowing some leases at the base of the Roan to be developed, while canceling most leases on the plateau itself is consistent with that landmark settlement agreement.

“For many years the Roan Plateau was a symbol of conflict in the American West,” BLM Director Neil Kornze said in the release. “We are fortunate that a visionary group of local, state and industry leaders, as well as sportsmen and conservationists, came together to create a new path for the future of the Roan Plateau.

“This draft document moves that vision forward and protects some of the state’s most important fish and wildlife habitat while also allowing for oil and gas development in places where it makes sense.”

Under the preferred alternative, the area atop the plateau where 17 oil and gas leases held by Bill Barrett Corp. were canceled as part of the settlement would be closed to future leasing.

Two Barrett leases on top and 12 below the rim of the plateau held by three other energy companies would be retained.

The document also addresses air quality and includes a court-ordered analysis of the so-called “Community Alternative,” which would require leases on top of the plateau to be accessed from private land or through directional drilling from the base.

Hunting and fishing groups that were involved in the settlement said Tuesday that they were reviewing the draft EIS, but that they welcomed the BLM’s designation of the settlement agreement as its preferred option.

“This keeps us moving toward a balanced, fair solution to protecting the Roan Plateau,” David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said in a separate press release. “We’re hopeful that the final management plan will preserve last year’s settlement, which protects the Roan’s best hunting and fishing habitat while allowing careful, responsible development of its energy reserves.”

Likewise, a coalition of conservation groups represented by Earthjustice, including Conservation Colorado and the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, also said they welcomed the BLM’s preferred option.

“It is time for BLM to protect the Roan Plateau for the long-term,” Peter Hart, staff attorney for the Wilderness Workshop, said in a prepared statement.

“Local communities need the assurance that the unique wildlife values and recreational opportunities on the Roan will be protected for visitors and residents for years to come, regardless of gas gluts and drilling booms,” he said.

Energy companies and trade groups also welcomed the settlement at the time it was reached, saying it was the best way to ensure at least some drilling could occur without threat of further legal challenge.

The BLM will announce the public meetings on the draft EIS at least 15 days in advance, but anticipated they will take place sometime in January. Public comments must be received by Feb. 18.

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