Salazar blocks BLM director over drilling |

Salazar blocks BLM director over drilling

Jennifer Talhelm
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

WASHINGTON ” Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar on Wednesday officially blocked the confirmation of President Bush’s nominee to head the Bureau of Land Management. He vowed to relent only when Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne pledges that the department’s conflict with the state of Colorado over energy development won’t end in a “train wreck.”

Salazar, a Democrat, said he outlined his concerns in a meeting with Kempthorne and asked for assurance that the federal government “would not be running roughshod over the Roan Plateau and Colorado’s public lands.”

Specifically, Salazar wants the state to have “meaningful input” about the development of oil shale and for Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter to have time to review a plan to drill for natural gas on the scenic Roan Plateau.

Until then, Salazar said, he will prevent the Senate from voting on James Caswell’s nomination to head the BLM. Salazar officially placed a “hold” on Caswell Wednesday after the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted to send his nomination to the full Senate.

Kempthorne promised to respond to Salazar in a letter.

Salazar and several other Colorado Democrats are trying to block a plan approved earlier this summer that authorized up to 1,570 new natural gas wells on the Roan. The western Colorado landmark is rich in gas and oil shale reserves and beloved for its pockets of pristine backcountry and abundant wildlife.

A second plan for areas with critical environmental concerns _ about 30 percent of the federal land _ is expected after a comment period, which ends in mid-August.

Opponents of drilling on the Roan have criticized Kempthorne for denying a request from Ritter for 120 days to examine the BLM’s drilling plan.

Salazar and others say they are hoping an agreement can be reached that would protect the top of the plateau.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Salazar said he hoped Kempthorne’s letter “will show he’s ready and willing to listen to the governor of Colorado.”

“I think he understood where I was coming from,” Salazar said of Kempthorne. “I told him it was up to him to avoid that train wreck and that I expected to have a cooperative and collaborative relationship.”