Settlement talks start in Roan Plateau lawsuit |

Settlement talks start in Roan Plateau lawsuit

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Environmental groups and federal officials are talking about a possible settlement of a lawsuit over drilling on western Colorado’s Roan Plateau.

Environmentalists and federal attorneys continue to prepare for a trial challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s plan to increase oil and gas development on public land on the plateau. But the two sides have also started discussing a settlement.

“We’re encouraged that talks are occurring. We hope they’ll turn out,” Jim Angell, an attorney with Earthjustice, said Friday.

Angell is one of the attorneys representing the 13 environmental groups suing the government.

In February, federal officials asked for more time to submit briefs in the lawsuit to give the new administration a chance to review the case. They said extending the deadlines would give Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has headed the agency since January, time to review the issues and “his stated intention” to explore an out-of-court settlement.

The Roan Plateau, about 180 miles west of Denver, is prized for its oil and gas as well as wildlife and pristine backcountry. The area provides habitat for some of the country’s largest deer and elk herds and, according to federal estimates, contains several trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The plan that opens more of the public land to drilling was approved by the Bush administration. As a Colorado senator, Salazar urged the BLM to adopt Gov. Bill Ritter’s proposal to issue oil and gas leases on federal land in phases over several years rather than all at once.

The BLM auctioned off all the available parcels for a total of $114 million last summer. It was the agency’s highest-grossing sale of onshore leases in the lower 48 states.

The environmental groups claim that the BLM’s analysis of the potential impacts of development was inadequate. They argue the agency didn’t consider a reasonable range of alternative approaches.

The BLM has defended the plan, saying it was developed after several years of study and public meetings and input. Federal officials say the plan contains several safeguards, including spacing well pads at least a half-mile apart, with “development to be constrained on existing roads and ridges on top of the plateau.”

The BLM’s 20-year management plan for the plateau projects 193 well pads and 1,570 wells on the public land over 20 years, including 13 pads and 210 wells on top.

Drilling on top would be done in stages and clusters to limit disturbance to 1 percent of the federal land at any time. Development would be focused on slopes with less than a 20 percent angle.

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