Environmental groups will sue to prevent Roan drilling | AspenTimes.com

Environmental groups will sue to prevent Roan drilling

Phillip YatesGlenwood Springs correspondentAspen, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colo. A coalition of environmentalists announced Monday that they plan to sue the Bureau of Land Management to stop it from leasing about 55,200 acres of the Roan Plateau.The announcement of the intent to sue comes a week after the BLM officials said the agency plans to include thousands of Roan Plateau acreage in its Aug. 14 lease sale for natural gas drilling. That sale will include 55,186 acres in 31 parcels in the Roan Plateau planning area an area valued for both its wildlife and its natural resources. Eighteen of the 31 parcels, which encompass a total of 34,087 acres, are for the top of the plateau.Joe Neuhof, West Slope director for the Colorado Environmental Coalition (CEC), said that his group and others are launching litigation to stop the leasing of the Roan Plateau because they felt they had no other choice in the wake of the BLMs announcement last week. Several environmental groups have fought for years to block natural gas development in the area, citing the areas wildlife, which includes genetically pure native cutthroat trout.Neuhof said the environmental group coalition which include the CEC, the Colorado Mountain Club and Environment Colorado will file its federal lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop leasing of the area in the next couple of weeks. This is the last tool in the tool belt that we can effectively use to continue the fight to protect the top of the Roan, Neuhof said. This is the last straw with the BLM announcing the lease sale [with Roan parcels], and the last effective action that we have is to pursue a legal challenge to the BLM.The litigation will also try to get the BLM to address the environmental and fiscal impacts of its plan to industrialize the Roan Plateaus public lands, according to a statement from the environmental groups who plan to sue. The groups also plan to file a formal protest of the Aug. 14 lease sale.

The future of the Roan Plateau has set off a wave of criticism between energy and environmental groups over how much money Colorado can receive from gas leases and royalties there, and how much natural gas is actually beneath the area.An estimated 9 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas is under federal lands in the Roan area, and it is estimated that federal revenue from oil and gas royalties and gas sales could generate about $857 million to $1.13 billion, according to the BLM. Colorado would receive an estimated $428 million to $565 million in money generated from oil and gas extraction on the Roan.The groups who intend to sue said that the public lands of the Roan Plateau represent only 1 percent of the Piceance Basin an area that is undergoing rapid energy development and covers most of Garfield County. They also say that 90 percent of the BLM lands in the basin are already leased and under control of the oil and gas industry.

Jon Bargas, manager of communications for the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, said the BLMs plan to develop natural gas on the Roan Plateau is the most environmentally restrictive plan our industry has ever seen. He said further attempts to delay the leasing of these lands will deny Americans access to energy we need every day. Those of us who work in the industry understand that the phased leasing that some are proposing for this area simply will not work and will actually result in more disturbance to the environment and less revenue for the state of Colorado, Bargas said.

Phased leasing for the Roan Plateau is an essential component of legislation Sen. Ken Salazar, (D-Colo.), Rep. John Salazar (D-Manassa) and Rep. Mark Udall (D-Eldorado Springs) have proposed for the western Colorado landmark. It has yet to make significant headway through Congress.The BLMs plan for the area, which projects 193 well pads in the entire area and 13 pads for the top of the plateau, calls for phased development. That means development would be phased over time with one operator working on the ground to limit disturbance to 1 percent of federal land at any time.Phased leasing, which state officials believe can bring back more revenue to the state, means auctioning a set of leases one after another over time.The Democrats legislation which mostly follows proposals outlined by Democratic Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter also calls for an increase of acreage in areas of environmental concern), which are areas given additional protection. Ritter is also considering whether to file a protest, his spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said in an e-mail Monday.Several environmental groups like Neuhofs support legislation to protect the Roan, but they have not fully endorsed the legislation proposed by the Salazars and Udall.We are in favor of a legislative solution to saving the Roan, Neuhof said. That legislation is a good start. We would like to see that legislation to do what we have been asking for all along, which is to protect the whole thing.

Steven Hall, a spokesman for the BLM, said it wasnt a surprise to the agency or anyone that the sale of parcels on the Roan Plateau triggers litigation.The reality is that the majority of the parcels that we offer for oil and gas leasing on the federal lands are going to be protested and or sued, Hall said. Hall also said one important aspect that gets lost in the debate over the Roan Plateau is the 1997 decision Congress made about whether or not the Roan was going to be leased for oil and gas development.I think there is a perception out there that the BLM could have said, You know what, we want to manage the Roan Plateau like a national park, Hall said. That is not the case. This is one of the rare pieces of public land in Colorado that we have very specific direction from Congress on what we are supposed to do with that land. In this case it is to lease it for oil and gas development.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.pyates@postindependent.com