DNR unveils Roan gas plan
August 17, 2005
After three weeks of hashing out details of a workable management plan for the Roan Plateau, a state agency has come up with an innovative nuts-and-bolts approach to gas development.
Shane Henry, assistant director of the Department of Natural Resources, presented a development plan that laid out a clear picture of how natural gas will be extracted from the top of the plateau while protecting other uses such as wildlife and recreation.
The Bureau of Land Management invited local elected officials and the state agency, which includes the Division of Wildlife, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the Colorado Geological Survey, to the table to help craft the final draft of the Roan Plateau Resource Management Plan.
Henry outlined a “unitization” plan that would lease the plateau in 2,500-acre increments. However, only one operator would be allowed to drill and produce gas, said Vince Matthews of the Colorado Geological Survey. The rest of the lease holders would share in the proceeds from the gas production as well as the costs of getting it out of the ground.
Drilling would be confined to the ridge tops where roads already run. Surface disturbance would be limited to 200 acres at a time, so if an operator wanted to move on to another ridge, it would have to reclaim all or a portion of the allotted acreage in order to do so.
“It would consolidate facilities, make it easier to monitor and minimize disturbance,” Matthews said.
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Drilling would take place in only one part of the plateau at a time.
Rather than spacing wells by acreage, the plan would set well pads at 2,640 feet ” or one-quarter mile ” apart. Such linear spacing would be a better fit for drilling along ridgelines rather than in blocks of land, Matthews said.
While the concept of leasing federal minerals as a unit is not unknown, it is usually applied to gas fields where some production has already occurred, he said. What makes the DNR plan unique is that it would be applied at the beginning of large-scale development.
The BLM was open to the idea.
“The more I learn about it, the more I feel good about it,” Glenwood Springs BLM field office manager Jamie Connell said.
Coincidentally, the agency also could afford to manage the plan because it is among seven BLM offices in a pilot program that will locate other federal and state agencies in one office to expedite resource development permitting. In recent legislation, Congress earmarked part of the fees collected for leasing federal lands to fund the program, Connell said.
Along with the clustered, phased development, exploratory drilling could take place in other areas during the winter, when there would be less impact to wildlife and humans, said Brian Macke, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. He also said he’d had some discussion with gas operators who were in favor of the plan.
“They may not completely embrace it, but as long as they know [about it] up front they can plan their economics,” he said.
John Broderick of the Colorado Division of Wildlife said the plan would base continued development on performance of the operator.
“Future permitting will be contingent on past performance,” he said. He said if an operator does not do a proper job of reclamation or control weeds, that operator may not be allowed to continue drilling until those areas are corrected.
Many of the elected officials at the gathering voiced their support for the idea, recognizing details will have to be worked out.
“It’s an intriguing idea,” said Rio Blanco County Commissioner Mike Neumann. “Rio Blanco would be very interested.”
While Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt also liked the idea, she questioned why drilling should be allowed on top of the plateau.
“Drilling on top frightens a lot of people. Do you think you could roll [development] across the base of the plateau, not sacrificing the base for the top, but roll it along the base then on the top?” she said.
Steve Smith, assistant regional director of the Wilderness Society, said the plan should be applied to drilling at the base of the plateau.
“This would soften the blow to the lower plateau and work out the bugs so it might be ready for prime time on portions of the top,” he said. “There’s still no reason to [drill] on the top for the life of this plan.”
The BLM will take the comments of the cooperating agencies, including the DNR development plan, under advisement in choosing the preferred alternative to the Roan management plan.