Report: Roan drilling has doubled since ’04 | AspenTimes.com

Report: Roan drilling has doubled since ’04

Phillip Yates
Garfield County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

WASHINGTON ” An environmental group has released a report saying the number of oil and gas drilling permits in the Bureau of Land Management’s Roan Plateau Planning Area has doubled since 2004.

The group is calling on the BLM to make the top of the plateau off-limits to future energy operations. The number of oil and gas drilling permits, most for private lands in the Roan planning area, increased from 980 wells in 2004 to 2,094 wells in January 2007 ” an increase of 114 percent.

In 1987, there were 84 wells permitted in the area, outside of Rifle, Colo., said Dusty Horwitt, senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group.

“Given the explosion of drilling in the area and the relatively small amount of energy that is likely to come from the top of the plateau, and the fact that it is treasured by so many people, it makes sense to protect the top from more drilling,” Horwitt said.

“The drilling would provide a small amount of energy easily rendered unnecessary through conservation efforts as modest as implementing new energy efficiency for ceiling fans,” the EWG said in the report.

Horwitt said he and others briefed U.S. Reps. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, John Salazar, D-Manassa, and Diana DeGette, D-Denver, about the study’s results Friday.

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U.S. Sen Ken Salazar, D-Colo., contends the plateau top should be protected from drilling. The group’s report is available on its website at http://www.ewg.org. The EWG based the report on government databases, private data generally not accessible to the public, and information from IHS Energy of Englewood.

According to the group, it used data from IHS to plot wells on a Google satellite map that “allows viewers to see the growth of well permits over the past two decades.” Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, said the EWG’s position regarding drilling on the Roan is “naive,” and ignores the valuable gas resource below the surface.

“I guess I would ask EWG if they feel they have the right to deny Americans clean and affordable energy that they own. All politics aside, it would be a poor policy course not to develop the U.S. Naval Oil Shale Reserves [the former name for the Roan Plateau]. It would disregard public land managers’ countless hours of work, not to mention taxpayer dollars, put into developing the most environmentally restrictive plan ever created” for drilling on public lands.

The study is the latest salvo in a debate over the future of the Roan Plateau. Advocates are contending that drilling on the Roan could bring $6 billion in revenues to the state over 30 years. Environmental groups that want the plateau top protected from drilling have disputed that claim. The study also comes in advance of Gov. Bill Ritter’s upcoming comments about the management plan for the Roan.

Based on a demand by Salazar, the Interior Department gave Ritter 120 days to review the BLM’s June management decision, which would allow drilling on the plateau top.

“We hope the governor would call for the top of the plateau to be protected,” Horwitt said. “Assuming the governor calls for that, we hope the BLM would take his comments to heart and re-look at their plan and protect the top of the plateau.”

Laura Chapin, a spokeswoman for Ritter, said an exact date for the release of his comments has not been decided, but it should be sometime this week.