Managing Roan means protecting the plateau
The Roan Plateau, public land in western Colorado, overlies a basin of natural gas. Approximately 86 percent of this gas can be extracted from the base of the plateau on lands of limited economic and natural value. The top of the plateau, however, is land rich with biological diversity, wildlife, rare species and aesthetic/spiritual values.Extracting the remaining 14 percent from wells sited on the top of the plateau would severely compromise, and perhaps destroy, the unique ecosystem extant on the plateau’s highlands. These facts are matters of public records, primarily those of the Bureau of Land Management, which has management responsibility for the Roan. The BLM’s stated mission is to “sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” Maintenance of the public trust demands that BLM, and its parent, the Department of the Interior, honor their statutory and political obligations to fulfill their mission. In the instant case there is clearly a conflict between the interests of “productivity” and those of “health and diversity.” Hence BLM’s role resolves to a balancing act of adjudicating the appropriate tradeoffs between these two, currently mutually exclusive, interests.BLM recently committed itself to a policy of “Best Management Practices” in gas and oil extraction. From that policy comes the following statement from Rebecca Watson, assistant secretary of the Interior: “We want to protect wildlife and landscapes while working to develop our badly needed domestic sources of energy. The focus of the new initiative is smart upfront planning and solid implementation of best practices to reduce environmental impacts on public and private lands and resources.”One must ask what better way could there be to reconcile and balance these competing goals, and to fulfill BLM’s commitment to “Best Practices,” than to preclude or at least postpone drilling from the top of the plateau? BLM should recognize that the de minimus nature of the gas reserves accessible from the top forces a decision to value the irreplaceable land resource over the meager incremental gas resource in order that they remain true to their mission.After all, this gas is not going to disappear. It will be there 20 years from now when, if anything, we may need it more. By then we may easily have less-intrusive means of drilling which will moot this conflict and we will have protected the land resource in perpetuity.Michael Larime lives outside Glenwood Springs.
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