Ritter supports delay of leasing on Roan Plateau | SummitDaily.com

Ritter supports delay of leasing on Roan Plateau

DENVER – Gov. Bill Ritter Monday lashed out at the federal government’s decision to move ahead with new energy development on the Roan Plateau, pledging in a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to support legislation restricting any immediate development.On Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management gave final approval to a plan authorizing up to 1,570 new natural gas wells on the plateau, a western Colorado landmark prized for both its large reserves of gas and oil shale and wildland qualities.The announcement came a day after Jim Hughes, acting BLM director, rejected Ritter’s request for 120 days to comment on the Roan Plateau management plan. Hughes wrote in the June 6 letter that the plan was seven years in the making and that the BLM worked closely with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and other state agencies.Ritter, who took office in January, said the decision not to give his administration time to do its own review “undermines efforts to build what should be a cooperative federal/state relationship.”The decision has led Ritter “to take a more active role” in the efforts of U.S. Reps. Mark Udall and John Salazar to delay federal funds to the BLM to oversee Roan Plateau development for a year and to prevent new projects in the meantime.”I welcome Gov. Ritter’s comments today and I am hopeful that his support will help me and John Salazar in securing congressional action to stop the BLM plan,” Udall said in a statement.Former Gov. Bill Owens commented on the management plan and his administration helped shape the final version. But the director and several top officials in the natural resources department are new and weren’t part of the discussions with BLM.The 20-year management plan for the Roan Plateau covers 73,602 acres – federal land on the top and sides of the plateau. Some wells have already been drilled on private land.A second decision will be issued after a 60-day comment period on areas considered to have critical environmental concerns, or about 30 percent of the federal land. BLM officials said that decision was delayed because the areas weren’t adequately described.BLM officials have said it would likely be six months at the earliest before any leases are offered.Ritter has questioned what he calls “the BLM’s rush” to lease the Roan Plateau. He said the BLM already has plans for about 40,000 more wells on federal land in northwest Colorado over the next 15 years.Drilling on the Roan Plateau, about 180 miles west of Denver, has been hotly debated because of the abundant wildlife and several pockets of pristine backcountry there. It generates an estimated $5 million a year for the local economy from hunting, fishing and wildlife watching, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.Industry officials say the plateau could provide enough natural gas for 4 million homes for the next 20 years.Area communities, conservation and hunting and angling groups oppose new wells on top of the Roan Plateau. The BLM’s preliminary plan proposed deferring drilling on top until 80 percent of wells below the plateau’s rim were developed, which the agency said could take 16 years.The final plan, released last September, was written after discussions with agencies, including the Colorado Division of Wildlife, which was concerned that delaying work on the top would intensify development at the bottom, which is crucial winter range for big game.The modified recommendation attempts to minimize the impact of development on the top by staging and clustering development so that no more than 1 percent of the plateau’s 34,758 acres would be disturbed at any one time.Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., had asked the BLM to extend the comment period on the final environmental impact statement because the agency revised an option it recommended in an earlier draft plan. He said the public didn’t get a chance to comment on the revision.—On the Net:Bureau of Land Management, Roan Plateau http://www.blm.gov/rmp/co/roanplateau

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