Thursday, July 31, 2008


Citizens of Colorado are lashing out against a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lease of public lands on top of the Roan Plateau to the likes of EnCana Oil and Gas. These folks aren't interested in seeing the awe inspiring plateau turned into a giant industrial park.

Who can blame them.

The spectacular Roan Plateau is located a few miles northwest of Rifle in central Colorado. Rising 3,500 feet above the Colorado River valley, the dramatic Roan Cliffs give way to the broad and rolling Roan Plateau. Several streams drain the area and eventually form stunning box canyons. The area offers outstanding views of the surrounding landscape.

Grassroots folks have the support of their local governments in their opposition to a plan they say comes straight from Washington D.C. that will destroy this beautiful gift of nature.

"For a number of years now, the City of Glenwood Springs, Colorado has repeatedly requested that the BLM take a slower, more measured and environmentally friendly approach to the Roan,” said Bruce Christensen, mayor of Glenwood Springs. “We would have liked the federal government to acknowledge the wishes of local communities but in general we have been ignored, along with the Governor and members of our Congressional delegation. Our hope is that the federal government fully considers what citizens are telling them, again, today with these protests: the Roan Plateau deserves stronger protections than what the BLM is offering.”

The group Save the Roan Plateu (SRP) says on August 14 the BLM is planning to lease more than 55,000 acres of undeveloped, wildlife-rich public land on the Roan Plateau, a broad island of natural tranquility amid the vast expanse of industrial energy development between Rifle and Parachute, Colo to the energy industry.

They want to stop this from happening.

This week SRP supporters marched on the Bureau of Land Management offices in Glen Springs, Colorado in protest of the leasing plan and to deliver thousands of protest letters.

Opposition centers on the simple ugly truth that drilling will have permanent impacts on the area’s important wildlife habitat, watersheds, and the region’s air quality.

And there is no reason for this rape of nature.

SRP writes that most of the natural gas beneath the Roan Plateau can be developed without drilling public lands on the surface which is what the greedy energy bosses want to do. Directional drilling techniques, points out the SRP, are used elsewhere in the Piceance Basin and are a reasonable alternative to industrializing prized wildlife habitat.

Destroying the Roan’s prime wildlife habitat will degrade the quality of the air, water and recreational opportunities there, while having absolutely no effect at the pump.

Opposition also comes from Sportsmen for the Roan Plateau, which is comprised of the state's most prominent sporting organizations, including state chapters of Trout Unlimited, the National Wildlife Federation, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

“The Roan Plateau is prime hunting and angling ground, and drilling there will irreparably harm elk and deer habitat, industrializing one of the last unspoiled refuges for prized big game species,” said Bill Dvorak with Sportsmen for the Roan Plateau.

Drilling the Roan Plateau could also have serious consequences for water quality and trout streams.

"The Roan Plateau Planning Area is almost half owned or leased by the natural gas industry," said Ken Neubecker, vice president of Colorado Trout Unlimited. CTU has worked diligently to protect and enhance rare, genetically pure Colorado River cutthroat trout that swim in two streams atop the Roan. "Keeping the other half intact for deer, elk and trout is a small thing to ask of an industry that is changing the face of the region.

An editorial in the Aspen Times says:

"This latest move by the BLM represents just another slap in the face to all the local governments and communities that have expressed support for protecting the Roan Plateau for over seven years. Such destruction will only increase if the Roan Plateau — one of the few remaining undeveloped landscapes in the area — is opened to drilling. Such destruction will change the Roan Plateau forever, and the scars will remain long after the natural gas is gone and the workers have left the area."

"These natural-gas wells will benefit only a small few within Colorado, many of whom moved here only for the pay the oil fields provide, not for the love of the state and the beauty it offers. Once the profit in the Roan natural gas fields is gone, the oil and gas companies and their workers will undoubtedly follow the supply and the next paycheck to the next place they can destroy — all while the Western Slope’s economy will be left in a shambles, just as it was in the 80s. Let’s have the foresight to not repeat the mistakes of the past and protect our beautiful and important public lands."

The following is from the Vail Daily.

Protesters: ‘No rigs on Roan’
Crowd delivers over 1,600 letters opposing BLM lease sales to energy companies

By Pete Fowler

In his 11 years at the Bureau of Land Management’s Glenwood Springs Field Office, Steve Bennett has never seen as many protest letters as were delivered Wednesday.

The letters — reportedly more than 1,600 delivered that day out of over 17,000 total — protest the BLM’s Aug. 14 lease sale of land for energy development on top of the Roan Plateau. For a typical lease sale there’s usually about six protests, Bennett said.

He’s also never seen protesters picket a BLM office in his 30 years with the agency. The message was as clear as it was on a sign one of over 30 protesters held: No rigs on the Roan.

Protesters said they believed the decision was coming from a federal level in Washington, D.C. They behaved cordially from a coned-off “First Amendment area.”
But one man yelled, “The whole U.S. is a First Amendment area!”

“Basically we came to send a strong message to the BLM that most citizens in the state of Colorado as well as elected officials favor protecting the Roan Plateau,” said Joe Neuhof, with the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

Pete Kolbenschlag, of the Campaign to Save Roan Plateau, said, “We want the BLM to finally listen to what people have been telling them all along — we’d rather not turn (the Roan Plateau) into an industrial zone.”

He said President Bush’s Administration has a “gung-ho” approach to push through this lease sale and other drilling efforts before the administration loses power.

Bennett, a BLM associate field manager, graciously accepted stacks of protest letters. He said the BLM would respond to the protests and decide how to proceed with the planned Aug. 14 lease sale of 55,186 acres of land on the Roan Plateau. He said there is no specific timeline for a response.

Phasing plans
Bennett said the BLM believes that plans for phased development on top of the Roan Plateau are an environmentally responsible way to allow energy development there.

The phasing plans involve one operator working on the ground to limit disturbance to 1 percent of federal land at any time. More than half of the acreage in the Roan Plateau has a no-surface occupancy stipulation, which means that oil and gas companies will have to drill from other areas to reach the natural gas.

EnCana Oil and Gas spokesman Doug Hock, speaking generally because the company hasn’t decided whether to participate in the Roan Plateau lease sale, said,

“I think we’ve demonstrated very clearly that you can drill and still protect the wildlife, still protect the environment that’s there.”

He said the Roan Plateau should be developed to meet the country’s strong demand for clean-burning natural gas, which can act as a “bridge” until renewable energy resources are developed more fully.

The BLM’s plan predicts 1,570 wells drilled from 193 well pads on the Roan Plateau over 20 years, including 210 wells from 13 pads on top of the plateau. The BLM estimates the 9 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas in the plateau could generate over $428 million in royalties and lease payments for the state.

Conservationists says there’s probably not that much gas.

Opponents say drilling on the Roan Plateau would harm wildlife and traditional uses like hunting and fishing.

Mark Stevens, with the Roaring Fork Sierra Club Group, said the U.S. uses about 25 percent of the petroleum output in the world and has about three percent of the world’s oil and gas reserves.

“We are not going to drill our way out of this problem,” he said.

Ken Neubecker, of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said the BLM is contradicting itself by saying the genetically pure Colorado River Cutthroat Trout that inhabit the Roan Plateau are a “sensitive species” while at the same time “throwing trout to the winds” by allowing natural gas development on the Roan Plateau under the BLM’s current plan.

The organization is one of a coalition of 10 environmental groups that has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block the lease sale.

Sen. Ken Salazar and congressmen Mark Udall and John Salazar have asked Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to exclude the public land on the Roan Plateau from leasing so they can pursue protections for the Roan Plateau favored by Gov. Bill Ritter and other Coloradans. The BLM rejected a proposal in March by the Ritter administration for more drilling restrictions on the Roan Plateau and phasing in leases rather than offering them all at once.

Wednesday was the last day protests on the lease sale could be submitted to the BLM. The protest included environmentalists, sportsmen, citizens and recreationists interested in protecting the Roan Plateau. Local officials including Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen, City Councilor Kris Chadwick, Pitkin County Commissioner Jack Hatfield and Garfield County Assessor John Gorman also joined the effort.

Hatfield questioned why the BLM is planning to lease land on the Roan Plateau now when “thousands of leases on millions of acres” in the area are already held by energy companies.

“This is our heritage. Once we give this away — once this is leased — there’s no going backwards,” he said. “We need to just stand up and say, ‘No leasing on the Roan Plateau. It’s too special.’”

Gorman said, “It’s just remarkable to me that with thousands of leases on millions of acres already why this one little corner is so important. There’s just no reason to go forward with this at this time.”

Christensen said it’s frustrating that many in Colorado and local communities have long asked the BLM for stronger protections for the Roan Plateau but have generally been ignored.

Contact Pete Fowler: (970) 384-9121

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