Enviros, BLM spar over Roan | AspenTimes.com

Enviros, BLM spar over Roan

Environmental groups attacked plans to drill on the Roan Plateau from a different angle Wednesday by contending that the Bureau of Land Management has grossly exaggerated the amount of natural gas available.A coalition led by the Wilderness Society claimed its analysis of government data shows 400 billion cubic feet of gas could be recovered using technology available today from under the Roan Plateau Planning Area.Earlier studies by the BLM contended that 15.4 trillion cubic feet is beneath the 127,000-acre area.The Roan Plateau, located just outside of Rifle, has become an important battleground in the battle between environmentalists and the Bush administration over natural gas development in the West. Environmentalists are fighting to make about 46,000 acres on the top of the plateau off-limits to drilling. The BLM believes some drilling can be allowed without damaging ecological resources there. A BLM draft resource management plan is due out later this winter.Huge discrepancyThe BLM’s estimate of “technically recoverable gas” is 38 times greater than the Wilderness Society’s estimate. Both sides blame the other for faulty analysis.”Somebody’s cooking the books to pry open the door” to the Roan Plateau, claimed Randy Udall, director of Pitkin County’s Community Office for Resource Efficiency and one of the experts assisting the Wilderness Society.Pete Morton, a Wilderness Society economist, claimed the BLM is “under orders from Washington” to use figures that place gas amounts in the most favorable light to try to earn support for drilling from surrounding communities.But a BLM spokesman said the discrepancy in gas estimates is due to a lack of understanding of the data on the part of the Wilderness Society. Vaughn Whatley of the BLM said the group is trying to stir a controversy in Colorado before Tuesday’s election.”The Wilderness Society has been unwilling to accept BLM’s calculation method or figures and indicated they would appeal to the public,” said Whatley. “The public has the right to know the whole story.”Dueling statisticsThe BLM and Wilderness Society used different government reports to arrive at their conclusions about the Roan Plateau’s gas reserves.The Wilderness Society used a 2002 U.S. Geological Survey report that is connected to the Bush administration’s Energy Policy Conservation Act.The BLM used data from a 1994 USGS report and a 1998 Department of Energy report to prepare a “reasonable foreseeable development” scenario for the area. Whatley said those reports were selected because they look at the specific geologic area around the Roan Plateau.The Wilderness Society used a report that looks at the entire Unita/Piceance Basin – of which Roan Plateau is a part – and assumed that gas reserves are dispersed evenly over that area, Whatley said. In reality, there is a much higher concentration of gas beneath the plateau than found at most other places in the basin, he said.Whatley said the Wilderness Society’s analysis was akin to taking a census report for the entire U.S. population and trying to extrapolate information about a specific region. The BLM’s analysis actually looks at that specific region, he said.Whatley said BLM officials explained the “potential pitfalls that occur when data from the [Energy Policy Conservation Act] is misused or skewed.” However, the environmental group ignored the warnings, he said.Errors or flaws by design?Steve Smith, Wilderness Society assistant regional director, countered that through “clumsy math” the BLM asserted that 53 percent of the natural gas in the entire 18.9 million-acre Unita/Piceance Basin is underneath the Roan Plateau. “That is a preposterous claim,” he said.And the environmental organization finds that claim too convenient.”Whether through error or design, the BLM’s flawed estimates support the gas and oil industry’s most extreme drilling scenario,” said Morton.The Wilderness Society wants the top of the plateau, which rises 3,000 feet above the Colorado River Valley floor, protected because it contends much damage would be wrought from drilling for little gain.Udall said that if there was 15.4 trillion cubic feet of gas at the Roan Plateau, as the BLM says, it would meet U.S. demand for eight months. If the Wilderness Society’s analysis is accurate, it would supply the United States for only eight days.Morton said it makes no sense to tap into such a biologically rich area as the top of the plateau when so much public land is already available to the gas and oil industry. He cited a Wilderness Society report which shows 70 percent of federal public lands already under lease for oil and gas development are not in production.Smith said the Wilderness Society doesn’t oppose “responsible drilling” on land surrounding the base of the plateau. In other words, it won’t fight drilling on about 70,000 acres.Whatley said the BLM’s draft plan for Roan Plateau won’t be known for at least two months. Coming up with a plan that balances gas development and resource protection “takes time,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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