Colorado officials propose minimizing gas well impact on Roan Plateau |

Colorado officials propose minimizing gas well impact on Roan Plateau

DENVER – State officials on Wednesday suggested that federal land managers cluster more natural gas wells into fewer sites on top of the Roan Plateau to minimize the effects of future development on the northwestern Colorado landmark.The Colorado Department of Natural Resources submitted its proposal to the Bureau of Land Management, which is drawing up the final version of a 20-year management plan for 73,600 acres of federal land on the plateau. About half that is on the plateau’s top, popular among outdoors enthusiasts for its scenery and abundant wildlife.Many residents around the plateau oppose any drilling on top, but petroleum companies, in the midst of high prices and surging demand, are eager to tap into the Roan’s rich gas reserves.The Department of Natural Resources comments will be added to those from city and county officials who met during the summer to sort through the implications of the region’s energy boom on federal land on and around the plateau.The government comments are on top of nearly 75,000 comments from the public, various agencies and industry groups.The 9,000-foot plateau, straddling Rio Blanco and Garfield counties, is home to huge deer and elk herds, mountain lions, bear, peregrine falcons and what biologists say is a genetically pure strain of cutthroat trout. It draws hunters and anglers from across the country.Many Western Colorado activists and environmentalists and the Glenwood Springs and Rifle city councils oppose drilling gas wells on the 34,758 acres of federal land on the plateau top. They fear the long-term economic and environmental impact.But even those who oppose any drilling on the top support the Department of Natural Resources’ approach as an alternative.It would require more wells be clustered into each site and more space between those sites, and it calls for spreading the development out in stages, instead letting it all take place more or less at once.The plan, written by state wildlife, oil and gas, geology and parks staff, anticipates less than 1 percent of the total surface would be disturbed at a time and recommends that some areas be off-limits to any drilling.It is similar to a plan previously released by Colorado hunting and conservation groups.State officials have also suggested the BLM put a single company in charge of operations to reduce the number of roads, pipelines and other facilities. Other companies would share in the profits and expenses based on their investment.”I think the Roan Plateau can really serve as an example for how to do this in other areas,” said Shane Henry, an assistant director in the Natural Resources Department.One idea is to offer incentives, including quicker approval of permits, to companies willing to build well pads farther apartLate last year, the BLM released a draft environmental impact statement and said its preferred option was drilling 51 wells from 39 pads on top of the plateau and 1,273 wells drilled from 363 pads in other areas.Steve Bennett of the BLM office in Glenwood Springs said the agency is drawing local governments into the Roan Plateau planning more than it has in any other process.Bennett said that likely will push back completion of the plan to March 2006, from the end of this year, but he said the extra time will pay off in the long run.

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