Gas drilling opponents want Roan spared |

Gas drilling opponents want Roan spared

An odd coalition of residents ranging from a respected architect to an organic farmer who calls herself a crew member on Spaceship Earth is trying to keep a unique piece of public land off limits to the oil and gas industry.Close to 200 people showed up to lobby the Garfield County commissioners last night to ask the Bureau of Land Management to prohibit drilling for natural gas on the Roan Plateau – a towering mesa that juts dramatically from the Colorado River valley north of Interstate 70 outside Rifle.”Western Garfield County is a sacrifice zone. You know it. Well all know it,” said Dean Moffatt, an architect from Glenwood Springs.The gas industry has been so active around areas like Silt, Rifle, Parachute and Rulison that people are moving out after seeing their water fouled and their land scarred by the industry, Moffatt said. He asked the commissioners to help their constituents by making the Roan Plateau a “poster child” for standing up to the industry.For people unfamiliar with the Roan Plateau, Rachel Conner of Rifle put it into perspective. She explained that the wild lands and stark beauty of the plateau make it as important to residents of western Garfield County as Mt. Sopris is to Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, and the Maroon Bells are to Aspen.Mark Rinehart of No Name said Garfield County might be more aptly named Gasfield County if environmental preservation isn’t balanced with resource extraction. He noted that many people in the area believe in an ethic of “tread lightly” on public lands to preserve them for future generations. So it’s disheartening to see those same lands leased to the gas industry.”Maybe we don’t have to tread lightly on those public lands anymore,” Rinehart said facetiously.The BLM is undertaking a study to determine how to manage public lands that include the 44,267 acres atop Roan Plateau. Extensive gas development has already occurred around the base.Green groups led by the Colorado Environmental Coalition and Colorado Mountain Club are trying to convince the BLM to adopt a plan that would preserve the top and encourage the gas industry to use directional drilling, which occurs at an angle rather than straight down, to get at the majority of the lucrative methane reserve. Their proposal would prohibit drilling from the mesa top for 20 years.The BLM is reviewing five proposals that allow varying degrees of drilling. Its preferred alternative would protect the most sensitive ecological areas but still allow extensive gas exploration.The environmental groups’ “Community Alternative” has the support of the Glenwood Springs and Carbondale town councils. Virtually all the speakers at last night’s hearing endorsed it, except gas industry representatives.John Skellion, who lives in the Grass Mesa area south of Rifle, said the elk disappeared and deer are now rarely seen in his rural area because of rampant gas well development. The companies first created drill pads 80 acres apart, then 40 and now 20, he said.”Once the oil companies get on top of the Roan, it’s over,” Skellion said.While preservationists might have sentiment on their side, the gas companies claim to be backed by law. Duane Zavadil, speaking for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said “no leasing or delayed leasing is not an alternative.” The companies have a right to lease and extract the mineral rights underneath the surface, he claimed. And 40 percent of the mesa top is private land, so leasing and drilling is inevitable, he said.In addition, he said directional drilling from the base isn’t technologically feasible so drilling from the top is required. About 80 percent of the gas that could be reached from the top can be drilled using existing roads, Zavadil said. Roughly 39 drill pads will be needed for 390 or so wells, he estimated.The Garfield County commissioners will review the information they were presented throughout the next month and make a recommendation to the BLM.Information about the BLM’s alternatives is available at on the “Community Alternative” is available at Condon’s e-mail address is

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