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Save island in sea of gas drilling

The Roan Plateau is an island of biological diversity rising 3,000 feet above a surrounding sea of sagebrush. Its unique ecosystem is the result of rain and snow induced by its 8,000-9,000 foot elevation. Unfortunately, it is located in the middle of the gas-rich Piceance Basin, which makes it a prime target for drilling.

To put the situation in perspective, let’s consider these facts:

The Piceance Basin occupies about 7 million acres of western Colorado.



The top of the Roan Plateau consists of about 58,000 acres ” less than 1 percent of the Piceance Basin.

A little more than half of the 58,000 acres has been found by virtue of its ecosystem to qualify for wilderness protection.



Geologists estimate the Piceance Basin to contain 20 trillion to 100 trillion cubic feet of gas, valued at $100 billion to $500 billion at the current market price.

The Piceance Basin, as rich as it may seem, produces only 1 percent of the total U.S gas supply. The wilderness-quality portion of the Roan Plateau may lie above 2 to 5 percent of the amount of gas in the Piceance Basin ” less than 1 percent of the nation’s gas reserves.

It is estimated that 5,000-10,000 gas wells will be drilled in the next 10 years in western Garfield County alone, and that these wells may produce for 20-30 years.

The recent increase in the price of gas, which has prompted the current drilling boom, is skyrocketing consumption, which is outstripping supply. Consumption has increased nearly 40 percent in the last 20 years and is projected to increase by another 40 percent in just the next 10 years. A major driving force in this increase is the conversion of electrical power generation from coal to gas.

Experts in the field tell us that we may have already consumed half of the available gas. At present and projected future rates of use, it won’t take very many decades to consume what is left.

What are these facts telling us? The most obvious lesson is that we desperately need to reduce our dependence on gas, and do it quickly. Instead of merely pressing for drilling more gas wells by providing big tax incentives to the gas industry, our government should be pouring money into conservation efforts and into a crash program to convert electric power production from gas to solar and wind power.

The next issue is, why the urgency to drill on the Roan Plateau? What is the justification for destroying a very special area for a mere 1 percent of the nation’s gas? The drillers claim they are now using “environmentally sensitive” techniques. That is nothing more than a euphemism for not trashing the landscape as badly as they used to. One company has even claimed that advanced technology and careful attention will allow drilling on the Roan Plateau “without harm.” Whom do they think they’re kidding?

Instead of drilling (and profits) trumping all other uses of the land, a system of priorities should be set up that reflects the relative value of each area’s other assets. The top of the Roan Plateau has enormous value for recreation, hunting and fishing uses, as well as its scenic and biological treasures. Once these are destroyed for a few decades of gas production, they are lost forever. A priority program should make the Roan Plateau one of the last areas to be drilled. In the meantime, technological advances may make it possible to spare the top of the plateau.

Why doesn’t the Bush administration, which trumpets listening to local opinion, heed that opinion on this issue? An overwhelming majority of the 11,000 public comments favored no drilling on the Roan. Garfield County and all the municipalities in the county ” and some 300 local businesses and organizations ” have spoken out against drilling the Roan. In spite of this outpouring, the Bureau of Land Management has flatly rejected Alternate F (the no-drill alternative) from its land use plan for the Roan Plateau.

What we are witnessing is a naked land grab policy by the Bush administration on behalf of the gas industry. It is up to all of us who wish to save the Roan Plateau to do all we can to stop this rape.

Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs. His column appears every other Thursday.


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