Bid to delay Roan drilling fails
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Legislative attempts to delay two western Colorado energy initiatives failed in one case and succeeded in another Wednesday.
U.S. Reps. John Salazar and Mark Udall, D-Colo., were unable to get a vote on an amendment to delay natural gas leasing on the Roan Plateau after a last-minute, $10 million price tag was attached to the measure. Salazar and Udall blamed the Bush administration for the maneuver.
However, Udall won House of Representatives approval of an amendment barring the Bureau of Land Management from issuing final regulations for commercial-scale leasing of oil shale and offering commercial oil shale leases during the 2008 fiscal year.
The House was considering amendments to its Interior Department appropriations bill Wednesday.
The BLM recently issued its final decision to allow drilling on the Roan Plateau near Rifle. Some conservationists and communities have called for keeping the plateau top off limits to drilling, and Salazar and Udall had hoped to withhold funding for gas leasing for the next fiscal year for the parts of the Roan that aren’t already open to drilling.
However, they were unable to get a vote on the measure after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) determined that delaying leasing actually would have cost money.
In a joint statement, the two said the “very questionable” cost estimate was added late Tuesday night by the CBO, which they said apparently was pressured by the Bush administration. That administration has been seeking to expedite energy development on public lands, including the Roan Plateau.
“In effect, the Bush administration is using exaggerated estimates of uncertain oil and gas revenue as an excuse to force additional oil and gas drilling on the West, and while they have won today’s round, they will not prevail in the end,” Salazar and Udall said.
However, Udall was able to celebrate the passage of his oil shale amendment.
“Oil shale has potential as an energy source, but Colorado’s Western Slope has had experience with a rush to development that ended up hurting our region’s economy,” he said in a news release. “My legislation will ensure that oil shale is developed in a responsible way.”
The House also defeated another amendment that would have let other shale-rich states such as Utah go forward with commercial oil shale leasing.
Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, said Udall’s go-slow approach may sound reasonable, “except when you look at it in the light of all the other projects that Congressman Udall has said he thinks ought to go slow. He pretty much thinks everything ought to go slow. It’s code-speak for ‘we hope a different administration will feel differently about redeveloping our domestic energy resources.'”
He said companies researching oil shale production need assurance that they will have areas to develop if their technology proves successful.
On the House floor, Udall testified that stopping oil shale development wasn’t his goal.
“The intent here is to do it right, not to stop it,” he said.
Clare Bastable, conservation director of the Colorado Mountain Club, noted that Shell has been running into delays testing its experimental oil shale technology in Rio Blanco County.
“It’s common sense to wait until we know if, how and when it can be done before we go into a large-scale commercial leasing program,” she said.
Bastable said she’s “very disappointed” by the fate of the Roan amendment.
“It seems like an 11th-hour, fairly underhanded kind of approach to stopping an important amendment from being considered,” she said.
Said Smith, “Everyone knew that it wasn’t going to be revenue-neutral, that it was going to cost the federal government and the state a lot of money not to lease.”
Bastable said such calculations fail to take into account the $5 million per year generated by hunting, fishing and other recreation that occurs on the Roan and could be hindered by drilling.
She said she’s worried that time may be running out for stopping leasing on top of the Roan, but is hopeful that Salazar and Udall still can find a means to delay it.
“Certainly the time window is getting smaller. I still feel confident that we can come up with a solution for the Roan, for protection of the Roan,” she said.
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