Salazar pushes Roan Plateau, oil shale measures in new energy bill | AspenTimes.com

Salazar pushes Roan Plateau, oil shale measures in new energy bill

Judith Kohler
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar plans to keep pushing for restrictions on developing oil shale and drilling on western Colorado’s Roan Plateau, an effort drilling proponents denounced as a “backdoor” attack on energy development.

An original version of the energy bill included restrictions on drilling for natural gas on public land atop the Roan Plateau and prohibited using federal funds to write final regulations for commercial oil shale development, or to sell commercial oil shale leases.

Those provisions were dropped from a House com­promise approved Dec. 6 and didn’t make it into the Senate version. Salazar said during a teleconference with reporters Wednesday, that he’ll push to include the oil-shale measures and a one-year moratorium on leasing federal land on top of the Roan in an omnibus spending bill.

Some of the elected officials in western Colorado, hunting and angling groups, environmentalists and churches across the state have called for protecting the Roan Plateau, rich in natural gas and oil shale as well as wildlife and pristine backcountry. There is drilling on some of the formation’s private land, and the Bureau of Land Management in June approved a plan opening some of the federal land to drilling.

“What I’m trying to do is the right thing for Colorado, for the land and water and people of Colorado,” Salazar said. “I want to make sure we don’t destroy the sustain­ability of western Colorado.”

Americans for American Energy, a Golden-based group that advocates domestic energy production, said delaying development of the Roan Plateau would deprive the state of billions of dollars of revenue in tax­es and fees and deprive the country of much-needed energy. Greg Schnacke, the group’s president and chief executive, contended that Salazar’s proposals are a ploy to block the project indefinitely.

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Increasing domestic energy production will increase national security as the country’s reliance on foreign fuel is reduced, added Schnacke, the former director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade group.

“They proclaim themselves to be the kings of the Roan,” Salazar said of the criticism from industry rep­resentatives. “The Roan Plateau doesn’t belong to any one king. It belongs to the people of this country, as a land of many uses.”

Leaders from 22 churches along the Front Range and on the Western Slope sent a letter Wednesday to Gov. Bill Ritter, urging him “to protect the unique Roan Plateau.” He is expected to submit his comments on the BLM’s management plan next week. Ritter, who took office last January, sought extra time to review the plan.

“We call you to stewardship and urge you to call for no drilling on the undeveloped public lands within the Roan Plateau Planning Area,” the church leaders wrote. A similar plea was made last week by elected officials from four communities near the Roan Plateau.

Tod Tibbetts, mayor pro tem of Silt, said the BLM’s plan for the Roan is “the most restrictive plan for drilling that I’ve observed” and thinks the agency did a good job, considering the pressure from the industry and the Bush administration for energy development. But Tibbetts said Silt, which twice approved resolu­tions opposing drilling on the plateau’s top, and other communities want to delay development in hopes that technology will advance to the point that the impacts are minimal. The Roan Plateau is a major draw for hunters from across the country and hunting makes up an estimated 25 to 30 percent of Silt’s sales tax revenue, he said.

“The problem that we’ve observed regionally is that the extreme fast pace of gas development has made it very difficult for regulatory agencies to keep up with enforcing current regulations and the current stan­dards on the books,” Tibbetts said.

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