Protesters rise up: ‘No rigs on the Roan’
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” In his 11 years at the Bureau of Land Management’s Glenwood Springs Field Office, Steve Bennett has never seen as many protest letters as were delivered Wednesday.
The letters ” reportedly more than 1,600 delivered that day out of over 17,000 total ” protest the BLM’s Aug. 14 lease sale of land for energy development on top of the Roan Plateau. For a typical lease sale there’s usually about six protests, Bennett said.
He’s also never seen protesters picket a BLM office in his 30 years with the agency. The message was as clear as it was on the sign one of more than 30 protesters held up: No rigs on the Roan.
Protesters said they believed the decision was coming from a federal level in Washington, D.C. They behaved cordially from a coned-off “First Amendment area.”
But one man yelled, “The whole U.S. is a First Amendment area!”
“Basically we came to send a strong message to the BLM that most citizens in the state of Colorado as well as elected officials favor protecting the Roan Plateau,” said Joe Neuhof, with the Colorado Environmental Coalition.
Pete Kolbenschlag, of the Campaign to Save Roan Plateau, said, “We want the BLM to finally listen to what people have been telling them all along ” we’d rather not turn (the Roan Plateau) into an industrial zone.”
He said President Bush’s administration has a “gung-ho” approach to push through this lease sale and other drilling efforts before the administration loses power.
Bennett, a BLM associate field manager, accepted stacks of protest letters. He said the BLM would respond to the protests and decide how to proceed with the planned Aug. 14 lease sale of 55,186 acres of land on the Roan Plateau. He said there is no specific timeline for a response.
Bennett said the BLM believes that plans for phased development on top of the Roan Plateau are an environmentally responsible way to allow energy development there.
The phasing plans involve one operator working on the ground to limit disturbance to 1 percent of federal land at any time. More than half of the acreage in the Roan Plateau has a no-surface occupancy stipulation, which means that oil and gas companies will have to drill from other areas to reach the natural gas.
EnCana Oil and Gas spokesman Doug Hock, speaking generally because the company hasn’t decided whether to participate in the Roan Plateau lease sale, said, “I think we’ve demonstrated very clearly that you can drill and still protect the wildlife, still protect the environment that’s there.”
He said the Roan Plateau should be developed to meet the country’s strong demand for clean-burning natural gas, which can act as a “bridge” until renewable energy resources are developed more fully.
The BLM’s plan predicts 1,570 wells drilled from 193 well pads on the Roan Plateau over 20 years, including 210 wells from 13 pads on top of the plateau. The BLM estimates the 9 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas in the plateau could generate over $428 million in royalties and lease payments for the state. Conservationists says there’s probably not that much gas.
Opponents say drilling on the Roan Plateau would harm wildlife and traditional uses like hunting and fishing.
Mark Stevens, with the Roaring Fork Sierra Club Group, said the U.S. uses about 25 percent of the petroleum output in the world and has about 3 percent of the world’s oil and gas reserves.
“We are not going to drill our way out of this problem,” he said.
Ken Neubecker, of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said the BLM is contradicting itself by saying the genetically pure Colorado River cutthroat trout that inhabit the Roan Plateau are a “sensitive species” while at the same time “throwing trout to the winds” by allowing natural gas development on the Roan Plateau under the BLM’s current plan.
The organization is one of a coalition of 10 environmental groups that has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block the lease sale.
Sen. Ken Salazar and congressmen Mark Udall and John Salazar have asked Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to exclude the public land on the Roan Plateau from leasing so they can pursue protections for the Roan Plateau favored by Gov. Bill Ritter and other Coloradans. The BLM rejected a proposal in March by the Ritter administration for more drilling restrictions on the Roan Plateau and phasing in leases rather than offering them all at once.
Wednesday was the last day protests on the lease sale could be submitted to the BLM. The protest included environmentalists, sportsmen, citizens and recreationists interested in protecting the Roan Plateau. Local officials, including Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen and City Councilor Kris Chadwick, Pitkin County Commissioner Jack Hatfield and Garfield County Assessor John Gorman also joined the effort.
Hatfield questioned why the BLM is planning to lease land on the Roan Plateau now when “thousands of leases on millions of acres” in the area are already held by energy companies.
“This is our heritage. Once we give this away ” once this is leased ” there’s no going backwards,” he said. “We need to just stand up and say, ‘No leasing on the Roan Plateau. It’s too special.'”
Gorman said, “It’s just remarkable to me that with thousands of leases on millions of acres already why this one little corner is so important. There’s just no reason to go forward with this at this time.”
Christensen said it’s frustrating that many in Colorado and local communities have long asked the BLM for stronger protections for the Roan Plateau but have generally been ignored.
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