Congressmen pushing to stall gas leasing on Roan Plateau
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER ” Two congressmen from Colorado will try this week to delay federal funding for new energy leases on top of the Roan Plateau to give the state and public more time to study the federal management plan and consider alternatives.
Democrats John Salazar and Mark Udall are sponsoring an amendment that says no money in the Interior Department’s appropriations bill could be used to open new and oil and gas leases on federal land on the western Colorado landmark.
The congressmen were getting help from the conservation group Trout Unlimited, which wants to preserve pristine waterways on the plateau, including habitat for Colorado River cutthroat trout.
The House is expected to debate the bill later this week.
After seven years of study, hearings and comment from state agencies, the Colorado office of the Bureau of Land Management finalized a plan last week that authorizes up to 1,570 new natural gas wells on and around the Roan Plateau over 20 years. It projects up to 13 well pads and 210 wells on top of the Roan. Multiple wells can be drilled from one pad, and wells would be clustered on pads a half-mile apart.
But Udall and Salazar have said a year’s moratorium on new leases would allow time to weigh the impacts on the plateau, which rises about 3,000 feet above the floor of the Colorado River.
The landmark north of Rifle contains large reserves of natural gas and oil shale and is home to some of the state’s largest deer and elk herds, mountain lions, bears, peregrine falcons, rare plants and a genetically distinct strain of cutthroat trout.
Trout Unlimited, historically focused on the nation’s trout and salmon fisheries, alerted its members nationwide to ask their congressional representatives to support the amendment by Udall and Salazar.
“This is really a priority for us,” said Corey Fisher in Trout Unlimited’s Missoula, Mont., office. ” This [Roan Plateau] really belongs to all Americans.”
Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, who took office in January, wrote in a letter Monday to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne that the BLM’s rejection of his request for more time to review the Roan Plateau plan ” has led me to take a more active role in working with” Udall and Salazar to delay new leases.
Bill Owens commented on the management plan when he was governor, and his administration helped shape the final version. But the director and several top officials at the state Department of Natural Resources are new and weren’t part of the discussions with BLM.
The management plan for the Roan Plateau covers 73,602 acres ” federal land on the top and sides of the plateau. Some wells have already been drilled on private land.
A second decision will follow a 60- day comment period on areas considered to have critical environmental concerns, or about 30 percent of the federal land. BLM officials said that decision was delayed because the areas weren’t adequately described.
BLM officials have said it would likely be six months at the earliest before any leases are offered.
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Don’t freak out if you see helicopters hovering over the Roaring Fork Valley backcountry or fixed-wing aircraft making repeated trips. It is part an annual wildlife study by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.