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Wait 20 years before deciding Roan top’s fate

Post Independent Opinion

If drilling on top of the Roan Plateau can wait 16 years, the Bureau of Land Management should strongly consider making it wait at least 20.The BLM’s preferred draft plan for managing the plateau and surrounding lowlands features the innovative idea of requiring that a threshold level of drilling take place around the plateau before drilling could start on top. Garfield County officials are to be applauded for suggesting the idea, and the federal agency likewise deserves credit for showing a willingness to consider something new in how it approaches land management.But if the agency is willing to hold off for what is expected to be 16 years before allowing drilling on the plateau top, we ask: Why not 20?This isn’t a plea to forever ban drilling on the plateau top. Maybe that will be warranted some day; maybe not. But the BLM’s current task is to plan for the next 20 years. The agency should see what takes place over that time before allowing drilling to degrade the unique environment on top of the plateau.By the draft plan’s own figures, declaring the top off limits would do little to impede energy development in the surrounding planning area. The BLM’s preferred plan, Alternative 3, projects that 1,273 wells could be drilled from 363 pads on federal lands below the plateau rim. And across Garfield County, industry observers are saying as many as 10,000 wells could be drilled over the next decade.With that kind of energy development ahead of us, the drilling activity the BLM is projecting under Alternative 3 is paltry – an estimated 51 wells in years 16 to 20 of the plan. Yet it opens the door to disturbing a relatively pristine backcountry that provides important wildlife habitat and is home to some globally rare plants. And it’s also possible that accelerated drilling below the plateau could mean drilling would begin sooner up top, and reach higher volumes there.As the BLM plan is considered, it is important to recognize that Congress mandated developing the plateau’s energy resources when it transferred the land to BLM control in 1997. Anyone who doesn’t like that should call their congressman, not the agency. But the agency also must abide by environmental laws that put some limits on energy development.Alternative 3 reflects the BLM’s belief that it isn’t obligated to immediately open up the plateau top to drilling. Waiting 20 years would allow more environmentally sound drilling techniques to be developed. In the interim, the nation also might turn to some greener forms of energy that would spare the plateau top from drilling altogether.Alternative 3 reflects the BLM’s belief that it isn’t obligated to immediately open up the plateau top to drilling. Waiting 20 years would allow more environmentally sound drilling techniques to be developed. In the interim, the nation also might turn to some greener forms of energy that would spare the plateau top from drilling altogether.


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