County commissioners endorse possible Roan Plateau deal | SummitDaily.com

County commissioners endorse possible Roan Plateau deal

John Stroud
jstroud@postindependent.com

Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson has agreed to go along with his fellow commissioners in signing a resolution of support for a possible settlement in the dispute over oil and gas leases on the Roan Plateau, as long as future leasing in the area is not blocked.

"The cancellation of the leases is only for some of Bill Barrett's leases on top of the Roan Plateau … and is not a permanent condition," Samson said during a special Board of County Commissioners meeting Thursday in Parachute, referring to his understanding of a tentative deal that could settle a six-year legal impasse over drilling on the Roan.

The deal, if ultimately approved by Bill Barrett Corp., the Bureau of Land Management and environmental groups that sued over the BLM's 2008 decision to lease about 55,000 acres on an around the Roan Plateau for oil and gas development, would result in some of Barrett's leases being canceled in the more pristine areas on top of the Roan.

In exchange, the BLM would include in its ongoing environmental review an alternative to allow other leases held by Barrett and three other companies to be developed.

It's a potential solution that industry officials, including representatives from two of the affected lease holders, Ursa Operating Co. and WPX Energy, advised county commissioners earlier this week offers the best chance for drilling to proceed on leases located at the base of the Roan.

Commissioners Tom Jankovsky and John Martin were prepared to sign a resolution endorsing the tentative settlement, as long as the county and other local jurisdictions are not made to return mineral lease payments on the canceled leases.

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However, Samson had strong reservations about endorsing any settlement that would result in canceled leases, both now but especially in the future.

After researching the matter, Samson said he could go along with the resolution as long as the county still has a say in the BLM's environmental analysis, which would include other alternatives.

Also, "The cancellation is not a permanent condition, and the lands could be leased out again," he said in joining Jankovsky and Martin in unanimous approval of the resolution.

The resolution acknowledges that the Roan Plateau planning area includes "extensive scenic, ecological and wildlife values," but also contains an estimated 8.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, "which may generate $857 million to $1.13 billion in federal revenue" through lease sales and royalties over the next two decades.

Freeing up development of at least some of those reserves through a negotiated legal settlement is a reasonable compromise, the resolution goes on to say.

County commissioners "support an agreement that represents an important and unique opportunity to settle the litigation and allow energy development to proceed responsibly and expeditiously," the resolution states.

The county's support is also contingent on a state budget resolution next year that would prevent the state from withholding future mineral lease payments to Garfield County and other local jurisdictions in order to reimburse Barrett for the canceled leases.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, at the urging of Garfield County's state representative, Bob Rankin of Carbondale, has said he would support such a provision when the issue comes before the state Joint Budget Committee.