Salazar changes strategy on Roan | AspenTimes.com

Salazar changes strategy on Roan

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colo. ” With hopes of protecting the Roan Plateau in an energy bill fading, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar said Wednesday he instead is pushing for a gas leasing moratorium there.

Salazar, D-Colo., said in a news conference that Senate Republican leaders involved in energy bill negotiations are refusing to accept a House energy bill provision that would prevent drilling from occurring on the top of the Roan, northwest of Rifle.

He said Democrats may not have the Senate votes needed to include the Roan provision in the energy bill. The same goes for another House provision that calls for slowing down the process leading to possible oil shale development in western Colorado.

Salazar said he may push to include a one-year moratorium on leasing on the Roan in an Interior Department appropriations bill.

“We may not prevail on this but we are putting up the best fight that we can,” he said.

On the other side of that fight is U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, Salazar’s Republican counterpart in Colorado. Allard spokesman Steve Wymer said in an interview Wednesday that Allard is “really disappointed” in Salazar’s efforts to delay drilling on the Roan and development of oil shale resources. He said he couldn’t speak to Salazar’s motivations, but that others who have supported a moratorium have acknowledged their goal is to stop development on the Roan.

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A moratorium theoretically could delay any action on the Roan until after next fall’s election. A big victory for Democrats could give them the 60 Senate votes they need to overcome a possible Republican filibuster regarding the Roan. In addition, if a Democrat is elected president, that could end the current support in the White House for proceeding with drilling on the Roan. However, Salazar on Wednesday would not say he hoped to buy time until the election.

Rather, he said the goal of the moratorium would be to allow for creation of a new Bureau of Land Management plan for the Roan that is more sensitive to the environmental values that should be protected there, and would maximize the return of revenues from any gas extraction.

“I don’t think a fire sale of these resources is what’s warranted at this time,” Salazar said.

Wymer said Allard supports the Roan plan because it was developed over years, with the involvement of local officials. However, four elected officials within Garfield County issued a news release Wednesday calling on Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter to support strong protections for the Roan Plateau, and saying his position is all the more important now that such protections apparently won’t be included in the energy bill.

The federal government has granted Ritter time to review plans to allow drilling on the Roan Plateau, including the plateau top. He is due to submit comments later this month.

“What’s happening at Roan Plateau – across much of the West – is a land grab,” Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen said in a prepared statement. “Our state would be best served by protecting the Roan Plateau and similar places, and moving into a new clean energy future, than in drilling the Roan.”

Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig, New Castle Trustee Greg Russi and Silt Trustee Tod Tibbetts voiced similar comments in the news release.

Wymer said that while some people living near the Roan Plateau don’t want drilling to occur there, “I think the senator’s heard a different perspective from locals.”

Salazar said there probably is about a 50-50 chance of succeeding in inserting a moratorium on Roan gas leasing into the appropriations bill. He expects to find out whether he is successful by the end of the month.

“Discussions are taking place as we speak,” he said.

Regarding oil shale, Salazar said it’s important not to be rushed into development.

“I don’t want to see an open pit mine that essentially goes from one part of the oil shale reserves to the other,” he said.

Wymer said oil shale development won’t occur any earlier than five to eight years from now under the best of circumstances, and it’s important for the country not to turn its back on the resource.

“That’s just a critically large piece of potential energy there,” he said.