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Preserve Roan for wildlife, humans

Guest CommentaryPete KolbenschlagGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

There is a reason why many of BLM’s plans to lease Colorado for oil and gas development have been protested of late – the Bush administration is pushing to open places that are better managed for other uses, generally without adequate analysis. On the leasing block in the last few years have been Colorado state parks and wildlife refuges, tens of thousands of acres of roadless national forest, municipal watersheds, critical habitats, private lands, conservation parcels and important recreation land.Meanwhile, oil and gas companies in the area have already locked up much more than 1 million acres of public lands in Colorado, but have yet only put about a third of that into production. Williams, one of the larger operators in Garfield County, recently admitted it had over a 10-year stockpile of drilling sites. And profits are good – a quick perusal of investor and corporate websites shows that most of these companies project very rosy scenarios for investors, as Colorado’s gas gets shipped off to the Midwest, driving up local prices as well.Regarding the Roan Plateau, there is an oft-heard claim that only 1 percent of the area would be disturbed and that more than half is entirely off-limits to drilling. Both these claims are false, and those who repeat them have either not read the BLM plan or are intentionally misleading the public. After an area has been bladed and drilled, a company merely has to have started interim reclamation (planting some grass, putting in some straw bales, etc.) and they can move on to the next location, with that land no longer counting (in BLM’s view) as developed. Buried in the BLM plan, the agency admits that restoration of wildlife habitat could take 20 years or more, although the BLM public relations team never repeats that fact.No area on the Roan Plateau would be entirely off-limits to drilling, in spite of the BLM’s claim that more than half is protected by so-called No Surface Occupancy stipulations. A quick review of the announcement for the upcoming August lease sale – in which the Bush administration plans to offer up all the Roan’s remaining unleased public lands – shows that such stipulations are waivable at the whim of BLM. Are riparian areas off limits? No, 100 feet per every mile of stream can be developed, according to the sale announcement. Other so-called NSO stipulations have similar caveats, although one would be hard-pressed to find BLM spokespeople admitting that when spinning their agency’s plan.The Roan Plateau represents about 1 percent of the Piceance Basin, where more than 90 percent of the BLM lands are already leased and under control of oil and gas companies. It is also among Colorado’s top places for wildlife habitat and biological diversity – rivaling several of our national parks. One day Colorado’s gas will be gone – most having been shipped off to the West Coast or Midwest – and with it the jobs and revenue that comes from this activity. The question remains – what will be left for the wildlife and human inhabitants that remain? Pete Kolbenschlag is a founder of the Save Roan Plateau Campaign, and looks forward to taking his nieces and nephew on a hike of this undeveloped natural treasure in the years to come.


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