BLM authorizes gas wells on Colorado's Roan Plateau

The US Bureau of Land Management authorized the drilling of as many as 1,570 natural gas wells over 20 years on part of the Roan Plateau in western Colorado.

Paula Dittrick
Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, June 11 -- The US Bureau of Land Management authorized the drilling of as many as 1,570 natural gas wells over 20 years on part of the Roan Plateau in western Colorado. The area involves federal land within the Piceance basin.

BLM indicated it probably will be at least 6 months before any leases are offered.

The decision issued by the Glenwood Springs BLM field office covers 70% of the 73,602 acres of the Roan. A final decision on the remaining 30%, which includes scenic and environmentally sensitive areas, is expected later this year following conclusion of a public comment period.

A 1997 law transferred much of the Roan Plateau from the former Naval Oil Shale Reserve to the US Department of Energy. The transfer act directed BLM to lease the area for petroleum resource development and to complete a resource management plan.

The act did not make a distinction between lands on top or below the plateau, BLM said on its web site. Much debate about oil and gas development there has focused on protecting the top, but some critical wildlife habitat is found below the rim.

Currently, there is no drilling on BLM-administered lands on top of Roan Plateau. As of August 2006, 31 wells existed on private lands on top of the plateau. Within the 53,805 acres of the Roan Plateau planning area on top of the plateau, more than 19,000 acres are private lands, BLM statistics said.

Environmentalist groups oppose oil and gas drilling on top of the plateau. Steve Smith, regional director for the Four Corners States office of the Wilderness Society, suggested BLM should have worked longer with Colorado state officials before making a decision.

"There is no rush to lease the Roan Plateau given the large number of leases already controlled by the oil and gas companies and the many additional BLM acres in Colorado available for leasing," Smith said.

Jamie Connell, Glenwood Springs BLM field manager, said the plan was developed with significant help from cooperating agencies, including the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (CDNR), Garfield and Rio Blanco counties, and the towns of Parachute, Glenwood Springs, and Rifle.

"The innovative approach we are taking for tightly controlled energy development on top of the plateau comes from a proposal submitted by [CDNR]," Connell said.

The decision authorizes a highly restrictive approach to oil and gas development on top of the plateau, Connell said. Development there will be conducted in a staged, ridge-by-ridge approach, with well pads no closer than one-half mile apart. Surface disturbance on top is limited to 1% of the total acres at any one time.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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