Salazar listens to local Roan concerns
Western Colorado’s congressman offered a largely sympathetic ear Friday to area government representatives seeking to protect the Roan Plateau from natural-gas drilling.Representatives of several local governments, along with two Pitkin county commissioners, met with U.S. Rep. John Salazar at Glenwood Springs City Hall. The plateau’s fate was a top topic of concern for many of them, and the talks also led to some larger-scale discussions about the nation’s energy policy.Several local governments have called for no drilling on top of the plateau, and several elected officials who met with Salazar Friday reiterated their desire to see the area protected.”It’s really near and dear to the people of Garfield County,” said Glenwood Springs City Council member Dan Richardson.The Bureau of Land Management has issued a draft plan for managing the plateau. Its preferred draft alternative would allow for gas drilling on top after a threshold level of gas development occurs at the base of the plateau. A public comment period on the plan ends April 11. Salazar earlier had helped persuade the BLM to extend a previous comment deadline.Salazar voiced support for protecting the plateau top from drilling during his run for office last fall and just after his election. But he hasn’t taken a formal position on the issue since the draft plan was released, and he offered little in terms of specifics Friday regarding how he would like to see the area northwest of Rifle managed. However, he said it’s important to listen to local communities’ desires in planning for the plateau’s management.”I stand strong behind the community and the community’s wishes. That’s who elected me; that’s who I have to support,” he said.He hopes industry also can be involved in reaching a mutually acceptable compromise regarding the plateau.Salazar said Shell recently asked him to keep an open mind about the plateau’s management, something he said he’s willing to do. Salazar said he wants to look at the issue “in a common-sense way.”But he added, “I’m not trying to destroy the Roan Plateau. To me it’s a beautiful area.”He said Shell indicated it is willing to give up oil-shale leases on the plateau top in exchange for others in northwest Colorado.Environmentalists and some local governments say a ban on drilling on top of the plateau over the plan’s 20-year life would allow more environmentally friendly means of extracting gas to be developed.Judi Hayward, a Parachute town trustee, said new support for that argument recently came from Williams Production. It announced it plans to use a new type of drilling rig that allows for as many as 22 wells to be drilled from one well pad, far more than had been the case.”The longer we can push out going up on that top, the less disturbance, because if they can do 22 gas wells now off of one pad, in five years what are they going to be able to do?” she said.Salazar said the United States also has to consider its dependence on other countries for oil, and its need for more energy efficiency and more domestic energy, including from renewable sources. He noted that his brother, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., has proposed increasing funding for renewable energy.Dorothea Farris, a Pitkin County commissioner, said the nation also needs to rethink policies that offer much larger tax breaks for buying sport utility vehicles than for buying hybrids.Silt trustee Dave Moore touched off a brief debate with Farris when he suggested gas development is a greater threat to western Colorado than to Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which recently was opened up to drilling.”I think it’s more important to protect the people of western Colorado than the caribou in Alaska,” he said.Farris said of ANWR, “It’s not just a few caribou. It’s the soul of the United States.”Salazar said in an interview later Friday that he would like to take a closer look at a citizen plan for the Roan Plateau that was initiated by environmental organizations.”I think if we can bring the environmental community together and the local community together we might have a plan there,” he said. “I’m just here to mediate or help any way I can.” “Whatever decision is made, it has got to come from the local community.”Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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