Putting the brakes on gas drilling | PostIndependent.com

Putting the brakes on gas drilling

Donna GrayGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Oil and gas drilling on top of the Roan Plateau may be postponed for a year if Congress agrees to cut funding for the Bureau of Land Management to lease public lands. Colorado congressmen John Salazar, D-Manassa, and Mark Udall, D-Nederland, have asked the House Appropriations Subcommittee to include a provision in the 2008 appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior that would in effect delay lease funding until the fiscal year beginning in October 2008.”We had letters from many of the towns in the area, from Glenwood Springs, Rifle, New Castle and Carbondale, asking us to put a one-year moratorium (on drilling) and to limit the appropriations bill so BLM would not be allowed to use those funds to issue lease permits for the top of the Roan,” Salazar said. Gov. Bill Ritter also has asked BLM for 120 days to review the Roan resource management plan, Salazar said. “He’s also going to ask BLM to please be responsible and put off the Record of Decision.”Salazar said he became concerned about an imminent move by BLM to grant drilling permits on the Roan after a public congressional hearing set for Glenwood Springs several weeks ago was abruptly canceled.”For some reason or other the meeting was canceled because of a scheduling conflict,” he said. “We feel (the proposed legislative action) is the only tool available to us for public comment.”BLM published a draft resource management plan (RMP) for the Roan in 2004 which recommended drilling on top be delayed until 80 percent of the wells in the rest of the planning area, covering about 73,000 acres on both the top and bottom of the plateau, were developed. BLM received thousands of public comments on the plan, most of which opposed drilling on top of the plateau.After meeting with local governments during the summer of 2005, BLM changed the preferred alternative of the RMP to reflect a plan suggested by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources that called for phased, clustered development on top of the plateau. Gas drilling would take place in limited areas on ridge tops, using existing roads, and would not progress to another area until reclamation was established.When BLM took over administration of the Naval Oil Shale Reserve that straddles the plateau in 1997, oil and gas development was a certainty, said BLM spokesman David Boyd. “We are following the direction of Congress … that as soon as practicable the land be leased for oil and gas,” he said. “Should we get a different direction from Congress, we’ll follow it.”Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen applauded the proposal by Salazar and Udall. “As a cooperating agency with BLM in drafting the plan, this is what our city has been asking for all along, full consideration of a plan to really protect the critical lands of the Roan Plateau.”Conservation groups had mixed reactions to the move.”This is terrific news,” said Steve Smith, assistant regional director of the Wilderness Society. “Congress is being responsive. They are following what people are asking for.”For Duke Cox, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, the proposal is merely “a breather” that puts off the inevitable. “We never believed that there should be any drilling on top of the Roan Plateau,” he said. “BLM really made a bad decision, and we would like to see it reversed.” Garfield County Commissioner Trési Houpt said the timeout will “buy a little time to step back and figure out a way to access the gas without moving up to the top.” However, BLM’s plan for phased development may not protect the area’s scenic and environmental values, she said.The Colorado Oil and Gas Association sees the proposal as nothing more than a delaying tactic. “It’s a useless delay, and we’re disappointed,” said Greg Schnacke, executive vice president of COGA. “We do believe this gas can be accessed and developed in a very environmentally friendly manner.”Such a delay will cost the state a significant amount of money and deprive people of a needed energy resource. “Frankly, Colorado could stand to lose a billion dollars in lease bonus payments alone and several billion over the life of the project,” he said. “This gas represents enough gas to heat every Colorado home for the next quarter century.” Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 16605dgray@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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