Comments support protection of Roan | AspenTimes.com

Comments support protection of Roan

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colo. ” All but seven of about 42,000 people who commented on how the federal government should manage the most ecologically sensitive areas of the Roan Plateau say it should be protected from natural gas drilling.

That’s according to an analysis of the comments by the Campaign to Save Roan Plateau, which has been fighting to keep drill rigs off the entire top of the plateau, northwest of Rifle.

“How much more unanimous does the public have to be?” Brian Bernhardt, with the Campaign to Save Roan Plateau, asked in a news release Monday announcing its findings.

At issue is how the U.S. Bureau of Land Management should manage what are called areas of critical environmental concern on the plateau. These are places requiring special management to protect scenic, wildlife, historic, cultural and other values.

In June, the agency issued a final decision for the plateau’s management, including a controversial plan to allow oil and gas drilling to occur on the plateau top. However, that decision currently applies to a little more than 50,000 acres. The BLM agreed with a protest contending that a Federal Register Notice regarding its draft Roan plan didn’t contain enough detail about the proposed 21,000 acres of ACECs in the planning area, and it decided to accept additional comments about ACECs.

Jamie Connell, manager of the BLM’s Glenwood Springs Field Office, said the agency hasn’t completed its own analysis of those comments yet but the analysis by the Campaign to Save Roan Plateau could be correct.

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She noted that a large group of those comments came from one source.

“I would expect all of them to have been supportive of the no-drilling option,” she said of that group.

Of the total comments, 41,539 were submitted by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which collected them on a Web site. Many of the NRDC comments were identical ones people submitted based on a sample letter suggested by NRDC, or were modified versions of that letter. The sample letter calls for expanding the acreage protected as ACECs, and closing ACECs on the plateau top to drilling.

The NRDC comments were accepted only after the BLM reversed itself and agreed to allow electronic comments. It initially had required that comments be mailed via the U.S. Postal Service or dropped off at its Glenwood Springs office.

Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States (IPAMS), questioned the dominance of comments originating from one source.

“Is this reflective of the … tactics of special interest groups who are opposed to oil and gas development, to generate large campaigns against energy development? I don’t know,” he said.

The NRDC also was responsible for collecting about 87 percent of the 75,000 comments the BLM received for its draft management plan for the Roan. Smith said a lot of those comments were from out of state.

As for the pro-industry comments, the Campaign to Save Roan Plateau said three of the seven comments came from IPAMS.

“The Roan Plateau’s lands are owned by citizens throughout Colorado and the nation who time and again have shown overwhelming support for the Roan’s protection,” said Bob Millette of Glenwood Springs, who submitted ACECs comments on behalf of the Roaring Fork Group of the Sierra Club. “Only the oil and gas companies think it’s a good idea to drill these lands, but they pull the strings with the BLM. If the agency won’t act in the public’s interest then our senators and governor should: Now is the time to protect the Roan Plateau for good.”

A U.S. House energy bill amendment would protect the top of the Roan from drilling. The Senate energy bill lacks that provision and the two versions of the bill have yet to be reconciled. Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter is currently in the midst of a 120-day period the BLM has provided him to weigh in on its Roan plan. Connell said Ritter has asked the BLM for an extension that would give him until mid-December to submit his comments.

“My guess is we’re going to say yes” to the request, she said.