BLM issues Roan Plateau drilling leases
September 30, 2008
DENVER ” Federal land managers took another step Monday toward allowing natural gas drilling on public land on Colorado’s scenic Roan Plateau, issuing drilling leases on about 55,000 acres.
It’s still uncertain when drilling could begin, because environmental analyses and public planning must be completed first. The plans also face a lawsuit filed by a coalition of environmental groups.
Those groups asked a federal judge on Monday to issue an injunction to block the leases while their lawsuit is heard in the courts. The judge hasn’t ruled on the request.
The Bureau of Land Management’s plans to tap the Roan’s vast natural gas reserves have been contentious. Proponents say the plateau’s estimated 9 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas is critically important, and that Colorado stands to gain hundreds of millions of dollars in its share of the revenue from the leases and royalties.
They also argue BLM has set strict rules to limit environmental damage.
Opponents say the BLM hasn’t gone far enough to protect the plateau’s wildlife and natural habitat ” for example, failing to require more extensive use of angled drilling to reach natural gas without disturbing the more sensitive areas atop the towering plateau.
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They also argue the BLM shouldn’t have sold all the leases at once, but instead should have held some back for later years when they would attract higher prices.
The environmentalists’ lawsuit claims the BLM didn’t analyze the long-term environmental impacts of the drilling plans or consider a reasonable range of alternative approaches.
The suit says the BLM’s analysis ignored the majority of the oil and gas drilling that eventually will result from the leasing, as well as the possible air pollution.
The BLM denies those claims.
The plateau, 180 miles west of Denver, boasts open land, deep canyons and rugged peaks as high as 9,000 feet.
It provides winter habitat for some of the country’s largest elk and mule deer herds and is home to mountain lions, peregrine falcons, bears, rare plants and native cutthroat trout.
The BLM’s plan calls for 1,570 wells drilled from 193 pads and over 20 years, including 210 wells from 13 pads on top of the plateau. The BLM says its proposal would preserve 51 percent of land on the Roan.
The BLM says that over 20 years, those wells will yield nearly 1.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas out of the plateau’s estimated total of 9 trillion.
The Bureau of Land Management auction off the leases in mid-August, generating nearly $114 million, a record for onshore energy lease sales in the lower 48 states.
Colorado will receive 49 percent of that, approximately $56 million. The state will also get 49 percent of the royalties energy companies pay to the federal government on natural gas they extract.
Protests were filed against the sale by parties including the state, local government, environmentalists, anglers and hunters. The BLM’s parent Interior Department said all of those protests were dismissed.