I-70 counties urged to rally behind Roan Plateau to prevent drilling | SummitDaily.com

I-70 counties urged to rally behind Roan Plateau to prevent drilling

BRECKENRIDGE – Shirley Willis of Dillon is awed every time she hikes through the Roan Plateau and comes across the cascading waterfall, which at 200 feet is the tallest in Colorado. She’ll hunt for Parachute penstemon, a small white and purple flower that grows nowhere else in the world. And she’ll marvel at the array of colors that blanket the plateau in the fall.The plateau, located between Parachute and Rifle in Garfield County, is home to one of the purest strains of cutthroat trout in Colorado. It attracts hunters, hikers, mountain bikers and others, bringing millions of dollars to the local economy.And it’s been in the environmental crosshairs lately. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is taking public comment about whether to open it up for drilling for natural gas on the top of the plateau. The comment period deadline is March 4.”It’s a unique case for the entire country,” said Adriana Raudzens, the regional representative for the Sierra Club, who spoke at the local club’s meeting Monday night in Frisco.Environmentalists from all along the Interstate 70 corridor, including Curry Craven of Breckenridge, are rallying behind their county commissioners to encourage them to put pressure on state officials to deny the application.The BLM’s preferred alternative is to allow drilling on the top of the plateau, but delay it until 80 percent of the land at the base is leased, which could take anywhere from six to 16 years.Currently, more than half of the base land is owned or leased by gas drilling companies.According to Raudzens, allowing drilling on the plateau will reduce deer populations by 33 percent and elk by 5 percent. And the industrial nature of drilling will ruin the aesthetics of the massive cliffs, she said.

Currently, thousands of wells pump natural gas from the basin surrounding the plateau, but gas companies want to access the top of the plateau where they believe they can reach 85 to 90 percent of the gas still under the ground. Environmentalists say that if gas interests were to conduct directional drilling – using one well pad from which several pumps access different areas – they could reach the fuel under the plateau without having to go in from the top.The industry cites economic vitality as the reason to permit drilling. It is estimated that leasing the land would bring $120 million to Garfield County.”We know they have to get the gas out – we’ve never tried to stop that,” Willis said. “But we want them to be responsible, take care of the air, the water. We’ve got a long way to go, a lot of work to do.”It’s not just the well pads that concern environmentalists. Roads, storage tanks, compression stations and pipelines fragment the landscape, Raudzens said, reducing the quality of recreation opportunities in the popular area.”The Roan Plateau is the poster child for a lot of areas in Colorado,” Raudzens said. “It’s got a wide array of terrain and activities. It has beautiful carved canyons; it’s one of the most biologically diverse places in Colorado. And it’s the only one without protection.”Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.

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