Attorneys: No violation on Roan |

Attorneys: No violation on Roan

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen CO, Colorado
Published: Washington Post file

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) drilling plan for the Roan Plateau Planning Area does not violate federal environmental law, U.S. Department of Justice attorneys argued in court documents filed earlier this week.

The government, in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of 10 environmental groups in July, denied allegations that the BLM’s plan for natural gas development on the Roan Plateau violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), court documents show.

The groups’ lawsuit argues that the BLM’s plan should be invalidated and that the issuance of any leases should be blocked because it “relies on the [agency’s] illegal plan and its inadequate environmental analysis.”

The environmental groups’ lawsuit argues the agency did not analyze the long-term environmental impacts of its actions nor did it consider a reasonable range of alternative approaches.

They argue that the BLM’s environmental impact statement for drilling “ignores the vast majority of the oil and gas development that eventually will result from the [BLM’s] leasing decision” and also ignores the possible ozone pollution that may result from natural gas development in the area.

The government, in a response filed Monday, denied those allegations.

The coalition of environmentalists ” which include the Wilderness Society, Colorado Trout Unlimited, Colorado Mountain Club and the Wilderness Workshop ” filed its lawsuit in July about a month before the BLM auctioned off 31 parcels that encompassed about 54,600 acres of the Roan Plateau Planning Area. That auction brought in about $114 million.

The August lease sale was an event that environmentalists and others have been trying to block for almost seven years. They prize the area for its wildlife, and have sought to protect it because it provides important habitat for mule deer, elk and genetically pure native cutthroat trout.

But for the oil and gas industry, the Roan Plateau Planning Area may be a lucrative target because it is estimated to hold about 8.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Drilling there also could provide Colorado with about $428 to $565 million in revenues over 20 years, according to the BLM.

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 areas to reduce surface disturbances.

The attorneys behind the lawsuit against the BLM said in August that they did not seek a temporary injunction blocking the Aug. 14 lease sale because of the 14,672 protests already filed against the sale of the Roan Plateau leases.

The BLM can only issue leases after it resolves any protest filed against them. That is a process that can take several months. If the BLM rejects a protest, the group who filed it can appeal the decision to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals.

Groups who filed protests include the Aspen Valley Land Trust, the Pitkin County commissioners, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife, but not the Garfield County commissioners.

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