55,000 acres on Roan up for lease | AspenTimes.com

55,000 acres on Roan up for lease

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colo. – The Bureau of Land Management announced Monday that it was including 55,000 acres of land on the Roan Plateau in its August lease sale. The agency’s announcement immediately drew rebukes from Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, both of whom said the BLM ignored their proposals for the area.

The BLM’s Aug. 14 lease sale will include 55,186 acres in 31 parcels in the Roan Plateau Planning Area, according to the agency. Eighteen of the 31 parcels, which encompass a total 34,087 acres, are for the top of the plateau.

The announcement that Roan acreage will be included in the August lease sale comes after years of controversy surrounding possible natural gas drilling on the western Colorado landmark. Several environmental groups and sportsmen who want to protect the area’s wildlife have opposed the BLM’s plan for drilling in the area. Some groups are even contemplating possible litigation to prevent it from it going forward.

But advocates for oil and gas development on the Roan Plateau say drilling can bring back hundreds of millions of dollars back to Colorado.

The BLM has estimated that federal revenue from oil and gas royalties and lease sales could generate $857 million to $1.13 billion over the next 20 years. Colorado would receive an estimated $428 million to $565 million in money generated from oil and gas extraction on the Roan, according to the BLM estimates.

In a statement expressing disappointment with the BLM’s move, Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., said the state will not receive any money from the Aug. 14 Roan lease sales or ongoing royalties and gas revenues until the cleanup of the Anvil Points research station near Rulison is complete.

“I am deeply disappointed that the administration is proceeding with its plan to auction off the entire top of the Roan Plateau for oil and gas development, despite objections by the state of Colorado,” Salazar said in a prepared statement. “The BLM’s plan ignores a set of sensible recommendations for the protection of wildlife habitat, the environment and other recreational resources that (Gov. Bill Ritter) and the state of Colorado developed last year, and which I have included in legislation that I have introduced in the U.S. Senate.”

In April, Ken Salazar, Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, and Rep. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, introduced legislation that largely followed what Gov. Bill Ritter proposed for the area in December.

Those proposals include increasing the acreage for areas of critical environmental concern – which are special areas given a higher level of protection – and implementing phased leasing for the area. Phased leasing, which state officials believe can bring back more revenue to the state, means auctioning a set of leases one after another over time.

Stephanie Valencia, a spokeswoman for Salazar, said the senator is still looking for ways to advance the Roan legislation in Congress, and to clear the way for revenues from the Roan Plateau to flow back to Colorado.

The BLM’s current plan for the area calls for “phased development,” where all the parcels would be leased at once, and then the development would be phased over time with one operator working on the ground.

Protections for the Roan, according to the agency, include spacing well pads at least a half-mile apart, with “development to be constrained on existing roads and ridges on top of the plateau.” The BLM plan for the Roan also limits surface disturbance on top of the plateau to 350 acres at any time.

At least 50 percent of the 55,186 acres up for leasing include a no-surface-occupancy stipulation, which means companies would have to directionally drill from other area to reduce surface disturbances.

Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, welcomed the BLM’s Monday announcement.

“The agency’s decision comes at a time when many consumers are struggling to pay their energy bills and would welcome government efforts to increase supplies to help lower energy costs,” Smith said in a prepared statement. “With strict stipulations to protect the area’s wildlife and other natural resources, this lease sale shows the world that the United States is still the leader in responsible energy development.”

But Corey Fisher, energy field coordinator for Trout Unlimited, said his group was disappointed that BLM is moving forward with its current plan because it doesn’t provide the level of protection that fish, wildlife, angling and hunting values on the Roan Plateau warrant.

Fisher said a critical concern for his group is the viability of the Colorado River cutthroat trout. However, the BLM’s current plan would allow for development in the fish’s watershed areas, he said.

“It disappointing that the BLM is obstinately moving forward with its plan when hunters, anglers, local townships, the governor and everyone in this area thinks there is a better way forward,” Fisher said.