Judge won’t block Roan Plateau gas drilling | AspenTimes.com

Judge won’t block Roan Plateau gas drilling

P. Solomon Banda
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” A federal judge refused to rule on a request by environmental groups to block federal land managers from allowing natural gas drilling on about 55,000 acres on the Roan Plateau in western Colorado.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger on Wednesday said both sides agreed that work wouldn’t start until June, leaving plenty of time for her to hear arguments and issue a decision in a broader lawsuit the environmental groups have filed.

The lawsuit claims the Bureau of Land Management didn’t analyze the long-term environmental impacts of the drilling plans or consider a reasonable range of alternatives in developing natural gas on the plateau.

Environmental groups want to prevent BLM from allowing drilling or other work on recently issued leases on the plateau, which is prized for its abundant wildlife and spectacular scenery as well as its vast gas reserves.

Krieger also said that another part of the group’s request for an injunction, seeking to keep the BLM from issuing the leases, was moot because they have already been issued.

“It’s outside the scope of this court to make policy decisions,” Krieger told attorneys for both sides about the lawsuit. “What I’ll be deciding on is what process has been used and if in using that process an error has been made.”

The plateau boasts open land, pine trees, deep canyons and rugged peaks as high as 9,000 feet at the western edge of the Colorado Rockies 180 miles west of Denver. It provides winter habitat for some of the country’s largest elk and mule deer herds.

It is home to mountain lions, peregrine falcons, bears, rare plants and native cutthroat trout.

The plateau also has an estimated 9 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas. Proponents of drilling say the energy is critically important, and that Colorado stands to gain hundreds of millions of dollars in its share of the revenue from the leases and royalties.

Earthjustice attorney Michael Freeman said he won’t ask Krieger to reconsider her decision about the injunction because the agreement to delay any work on the land met their goal to maintain the “status quo.”

“It gives the court time to rule on this case,” Freeman said outside of court.

Jon Bargas of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States said the agreement to delay work and drilling until June doesn’t vastly affect plans because of the time needed for environmental studies and permits.

The BLM’s plan calls for 1,570 wells drilled from 193 pads over 20 years, including 210 wells from 13 pads on top of the plateau. The BLM says its proposal would preserve 51 percent of land on the Roan.

The years-long debate over developing the Roan’s vast natural gas reserves has been contentious. Gov. Bill Ritter’s call to develop the area in phases was rejected, as were efforts by Sen. Ken Salazar and Reps. Mark Udall and John Salazar, all Democrats, to insert Ritter’s proposal into federal legislation.

An auction of the leases in mid-August generated nearly $114 million, a record for onshore energy lease sales in the lower 48 states. The leases were issued Sept. 29 with terms that allowed for the BLM to delay surface disturbances until June 1.

Protests were filed against the sale by parties including the state, local government, environmentalists, anglers and hunters. The BLM’s parent Interior Department said all of those protests were dismissed.

“We believe the BLM should be moving forward,” Bargas said. “The time for comment and protests have passed. This wasn’t hastily done. It was a 10 year process where everybody, including local government, state officials, hunters, anglers, everbody, has been given a seat at the table.”

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