Agency welcomes public input on Roan Plateau draft plan |

Agency welcomes public input on Roan Plateau draft plan

My Side
Rebecca Watson

The draft plan for the Roan Plateau is open for public comment. It represents unprecedented study and public input over several years and implements a groundbreaking new Bush Administration policy allowing local governments and state agencies to act as full cooperators in our planning efforts. As a result, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, and the towns of Rifle and Parachute played an active role representing local communities in developing this draft plan.

Through this collaborative approach the Bureau of Land Management is analyzing five management scenarios covering a wide range of options, from no new leasing to an emphasis on energy development. The “preferred alternative” seeks to balance energy development with protection of ecological and recreational values.

The Roan Plateau has a unique history. Recognized early on for its potential energy resources, portions were managed by the Department of Energy as the Naval Oil Shale Reserve for many years. In 1997, Congress transferred 56,000 acres to BLM with a mandate to plan for energy development.

The Roan Plateau contains an estimated 15 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas; about 9 trillion on public lands. Although estimates vary, no one disputes the area is rich in natural gas. Wells currently have a 97 percent success rate.

The “preferred alternative” would allow development in designated areas under strict stipulations to protect the environment, including habitat for big game, Colorado cutthroat trout and the Parachute penstemon. More than 90 percent would occur below the plateau, and any development on top would be deferred for about 16 years. This concept, suggested by local cooperators, will allow us time to take advantage of future technology that could lessen impacts. Should the top be developed, restrictions would still protect important natural resources and views. The draft contains other alternatives and we invite public scrutiny of all the alternatives presented.

Why drill at all? It is hard to imagine where our natural gas would come from if not from the abundant deposits on public lands that Congress has mandated be used to support the country’s energy needs. Natural gas is a clean- burning fuel that is replacing coal in 95 percent of modern power plants. Demand is projected to increase 50 percent in the next 20 years.

New technology and stricter environmental requirements have significantly diminished gas development impacts. Smaller drill pads, directional drilling, narrower roads, and co-location of facilities reduce footprints on the land. Developers also are required to restore the land. (Development is not permanent.)

Renewable energy is often touted as an alternative to drilling. We agree, renewable energy is important and we are moving aggressively to assist its development. In fact, new wind energy development could be permitted under various alternatives for the Roan Plateau. But renewable energy will not meet our near-term energy requirements. Even in 20 years, the Department of Energy estimates that solar, wind, geothermal and biomass production will only account for 3.7 percent of U.S. electricity. More than 95 percent will need to come from other sources.

The National Energy Policy calls for a balanced, diversified approach, one that “plans for the future but meets the needs of today.” Achieving this requires both renewable and traditional energy production coupled with increased energy efficiency and conservation.

The Interior Department is implementing an environmentally-sound, diversified energy program to meet these goals while addressing local concerns. The Roan Plateau is an excellent example. BLM will consider new information before the agency and cooperators write a final plan. I invite readers to look at this draft on the Web at, and let us know how we can improve it.

Rebecca Watson is the assistant secretary for land and minerals management at the Department of the Interior.

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