Roan, oil shale out of energy bill | AspenTimes.com

Roan, oil shale out of energy bill

Judith Kohler
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Restrictions on developing oil shale and drilling for gas on western Colorado’s Roan Plateau have been removed from a federal energy bill, drawing praise from industry officials and vows by Democratic lawmakers to keep the measures alive.

Those provisions and others dealing with management of oil and gas development on public lands were dumped from a compromise energy bill announced by House Democrats over the weekend. The House was expected to vote on the bill this week.

While happy with measures promoting vehicle fuel economy, biofuels and renewable energy, Rep. Mark Udall and Sen. Ken Salazar, both Colorado Democrats, expressed disappointment Wednesday that the measures on the Roan Plateau and oil shale didn’t make it.

“This is not the end of the effort,” Udall said in a phone conference with reporters. “We’re not going to stop until we protect the Roan.”

In a separate conference call, Salazar said he is pushing for a one-year moratorium on natural gas leases on federal land on the Roan Plateau in the Senate version of the energy bill or the Interior Department appropriations bill.

He’s also pursuing a measure to slow down the federal government’s work on regulations for commercial oil shale development, much of which would take place in western Colorado.

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Salazar said he believes the time-outs will result in a better management.

“We do not need the federal government to be running roughshod over the Western Slope of Colorado,” Salazar said.

An energy bill passed by the House this summer included a measure by Udall and Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., to prohibit any ground disturbance on oil and gas leases on public land on top of the Roan Plateau. Drilling and other activities would have to be done offsite.

Another measure by Udall would have prohibited spending in the 2008 budget on final regulations for commercial oil shale development or sale of commercial oil shale leases on federal land.

Udall said opposition in the Senate led to removal of the provisions.

Disagreements between the House and Senate and among congressional Democrats stalled the energy bill until last week’s compromise.

Colorado’s other senator, Republican Wayne Allard, opposes a moratorium on leasing federal land on the Roan Plateau or delaying regulations for commercial oil shale development. He supports the Bureau of Land Management’s plan for the Roan Plateau, a formation 180 miles west of Denver prized for its vast gas reserves as well as its abundant wildlife and recreation and hunting uses.

The management plan projects 193 well pads and 1,570 wells over 20 years, including 13 pads and 210 wells on top of the Roan Plateau. Final approval of a management plan for areas designated as environmentally sensitive is pending.

Also pending are comments by Gov. Bill Ritter, who sought an extra 120 days to review BLM’s plan because he was new in office. He has until mid-December to submit his comments.

Local governments and residents have urged the BLM to ban drilling on top of the plateau. In a statement Wednesday, officials from four towns in Garfield County, where most of the Roan is, urged Ritter to support strong protections for the area.

Salazar said he expects the governor’s experts to reach the same conclusion he has: that the management plan for the Roan Plateau can be improved.

Evan Dreyer, Ritter’s spokesman, declined to respond to Salazar’s comment. He said the governor believes the state and BLM can be strong partners as they seek to balance energy development and the environment.

Oil and gas industry officials oppose the Roan Plateau drilling moratorium, saying the plan was developed over seven years and is one of the most restrictive ever approved.

“Reps. Salazar and Udall finally heard loud and clear from consumers and businesses that they don’t want to pay more for energy,” said Marc Smith, executive director of the Denver-based Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States.

Still in play is a multibillion-dollar tax package that would repeal tax breaks for oil companies and non-energy tax increases and adjustments to pay for new energy programs.

A study commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the major oil companies, says the tax increases will hurt investment in the oil and gas industry and mean 57,464 fewer jobs in Colorado by 2030. API spokeswoman Karen Matusic said those figures were based on earlier versions of the bill, but still apply because the tax increases are still in the measure.

Pete Morton, an economist with The Wilderness Society in Denver, said the study doesn’t take into account the jobs that would be created from the boost to renewable energy. The House bill would require investor-owned utilities get at least 15 percent of their power from renewable sources and energy efficiency by 2020.

Morton also disputed the projected job losses. He said natural resources and mining, which includes oil and gas, employ only about 26,000 in Colorado.