Ritter calls for balance on Roan

Phillip YatesGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter announced his comments about the future of the Roan Plateau on Thursday, calling for a balance between responsible energy development and protection of wildlife and the environment. Moments after Ritter announced his thoughts, environmental, recreation and energy groups sent out a flurry of press releases either criticizing the governor or praising him.Ritter called his proposal for the Roan Plateau, located near Rifle, a “unique Colorado solution.” He is seeking increased protection of sensitive areas, more use of technology to minimize environmental disturbances, and incremental leasing of federal lands – a policy he believes will better protect the environment, increase state revenues and pace future development. The current federal plan for the Roan calls for all leasing to come all at once. “I think we can strike a balance that is going to benefit Colorado’s environment, its economy, the communities involved, the local communities on the Western Slope and certainly the energy industry,” Ritter said. Ritter, a Democrat, also called for “sustainable and stable economic prosperity” for Colorado’s western communities so they are better protected against “boom-and-bust cycles,” along with legislation that ensures Colorado receives lease payments from the Roan. U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., requested that the Interior Department give Ritter 120 days to review the BLM’s June management decision, which allowed drilling on the top of the plateau. Although Ritter has issued his comments about the future of the Roan, the BLM is not required to act on them.Environmental, recreational and hunting organizations that want heavy protections for the Roan, and the energy companies and organizations that want to tap the area’s gas reserves have been waiting in anticipation of Ritter’s comments. The future of the Roan Plateau has set off a wave of criticism between energy and environmental groups over how much money Colorado can receive from gas leases and royalties there and how much natural gas is actually beneath the area.”The BLM welcomes Gov. Ritter’s contributions to management of the Roan Plateau and we look forward to continuing our partnership with the State of Colorado,” said BLM Colorado State Director Sally Wisely in a statement. “I believe we can recover the area’s natural gas resources in an environmentally sensitive manner so as to meet the nation’s energy needs and generate revenue for the people of Colorado.”Neither Ritter nor the state issued any formal comments to the BLM about its June decision. However, the state did submit a letter to the BLM about an upcoming decision about areas of critical environmental concern (ACECs) in the Roan. The ACEC decision is not expected until the first part of 2008, according to the BLM.Harris Sherman, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, sent a letter to Colorado’s BLM office, calling the BLM’s proposed ACECs “inadequate to protect all the valuable fish and wildlife habitat within the (Roan) planning area.” He called on the BLM to increase expand ACECs to 36,184 acres, from the 21,034 acres that are currently proposed.”The BLM should extend the ACECs to encompass additional areas that will fully protect the watershed values and important big game winter range and Colorado River cutthroat trout habitat on the Roan Plateau,” the letter said. “Doing so would not interfere with development of the natural gas resources beneath the plateau.”Sherman wrote that the letter is not Colorado’s final position on all of the “issues surrounding the BLM plan for the Roan Plateau.””We have only one chance to do this and do it right, we believe,” Ritter said of the state’s efforts to increase the ACEC acreage. “And so we are doing all we can to be stubborn about the environmental concerns as it relates to the Roan drilling.”Meg Collins, president of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said in a statement that her organization was pleased that Ritter recognizes the vast resource potential within the Roan Plateau and the potential for substantial revenue drilling could bring to the state. “Most importantly, we are pleased that Gov. Ritter acknowledges the important role technology plays in extracting natural gas from environmentally sensitive places,” Collins said in the statement. “We have said it before and prove on a daily basis that energy development and protection of the environment can and do co-exist.” Clare Bastable, conservation director of the Colorado Mountain Club, said the organization was happy to hear Ritter is calling for expansion of the ACEC designation on the Roan.”We are really pleased to see that (proposed) increase in acreage – those are areas of critical wildlife habitats,” Bastable said.Bastable said the energy industry is facing a backlog of leases in Colorado that are not being developed and it would be more prudent for drilling, which is undergoing a technology transformation, to occur when technology is even more developed. “I think that is where I found the governor’s proposal a bit troubling,” Bastable said of Ritter’s acceptance of immediate leasing on the Roan. “It just seems to make sense to wait a little longer before taking action on the Roan. If we wait on the Roan, years from now that resource (natural gas) is going to be worth that much more money.”Although Ritter’s proposals for the Roan may not be accepted, he said the state’s plan for the Roan is better than the current BLM one.”(It) allows us to maximize the economic benefit and minimize the environmental impact,” Ritter said.Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117pyates@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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