Colorado state, federal officials discuss Roan Plateau

Nick Snow
Washington Editor
WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 21 -- The US Department of Interior and the Colorado state officials have begun discussing the Roan Plateau's future and will continue talks over coming weeks, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said on Dec. 20.

The federally and privately owned northwestern Colorado plateau became a prominent resource access symbol during 2007 when two US House Democrats from the state, John T. Salazar and Mark Udall, tried to delay further federal oil and gas leasing there with amendments to various bills.

"The Roan Plateau is a very special place, and we have only one chance to get it right. The state and federal governments owe it to present and future generations to do everything we can to accomplish our goals," Ritter said in Denver.

C. Stephen Allred, assistant US Interior secretary for land and minerals, said that he welcomed Ritter's views. Allred added that he and BLM Director Jim Caswell will continue to work with BLM Colorado State Director Sally Wisely and the state government.

Udall said he would have preferred that Congress adopt statutory provisions to protect the area, "but in the absence of action by Congress I believe the governor's approach represents our best opportunity to achieve that goal."

Meg Collins, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said COGA was pleased with Ritter's announcement "and the fact that he recognizes the vast resource potential within the Roan Plateau and the potential for substantial revenue for the state. Most importantly, we're pleased that Gov. Ritter acknowledges the important role technology plays in extracting natural gas from environmentally sensitive places."

COGA recognizes discussions regarding future Roan Plateau leasing are ongoing and looks forward to meeting with the governor and other stakeholders, she continued.

One of Ritter's main goals would be to expand four wildlife protection zones, designated Areas of Critical Environmental Concern by BLM, which currently total 21,032 acres. Udall said that if the Bush administration accepted Ritter's suggestions, about 80% of the top of the Roan Plateau would fall under that designation.

The governor said that he also would like BLM to explore phased or incremental leasing to increase state revenues, reduce environmental impacts and "properly pace future development." He also suggested possibly amending the 1997 federal land transfer law to ensure that the state receives bonus payments from future leasing on the plateau.

The law moved ownership of Naval Oil Shale Reserves 1 and 3 on the plateau from the US Department of Energy to BLM. It also instructed the DOI agency to develop a multiple-use resource management plan for the area and issue oil and gas leases "as soon as practicable," according to BLM. Its current management plan would allow 91% recovery of the estimated 8.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas there while protecting 51% of the plateau.

Ritter said that he also would like any future leasing there to incorporate state-of-the-art technology to minimize environmental disturbance and to provide sustained economic benefits to local communities and businesses.

The federal government owns 73,620 acres, or 58% of the surface, within the Roan Plateau Planning Area, while energy companies, ranchers and other private entities hold the remaining 42%, according to information at the governor's website. It said that BLM's current plan is to lease all available acreage at once, resulting in up to 1,560 wells on 193 well pads being developed over 20 years. Surface disturbances would be limited to 350 acres at a time and wells would be clustered on multi-well pads, it said.
Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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