BLM proposes clustering, staging drilling on Roan Plateau near Rifle

BLM proposes clustering, staging drilling on Roan Plateau near Rifle

Aiming to balance development and wildlife on the scenic Roan Plateau in western Colorado, the Bureau of Land Management on Thursday proposed restrictions to oil and gas drilling but didn’t agree to make the top of the plateau off limits.

The rugged plateau about 150 miles west of Denver has some of the country’s richest natural gas reserves, and also is home to elk, deer, mountain lions, peregrine falcons, bears, native Colorado trout and other wildlife that draw tourists and hunters from across the country.

The BLM’s preferred 20-year management proposal would require oil and gas drilling in stages and clustered wells to limit disturbance of the land. It also would preserve 51 percent of land on top and below the plateau for wildlife and to protect views, while allowing recovery of more than 90 percent of natural gas, the BLM said.

Some environmentalists were disappointed in the plan the BLM said would produce enough oil and gas to heat 4 million homes for 20 years.

In a draft of the plan released in 2004, the BLM said it preferred a proposal to defer drilling on the top until 80 percent of the wells below the plateau’s rim were developed – a process estimated to take 16 years.

The revised proposal, which includes suggestions from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, would stage and cluster development so that no more than 1 percent of the 34,758 acres on top of the plateau would be disturbed at any one time.

The BLM projected 193 well pads and 1,570 wells in all over 20 years, including 13 pads and 210 wells on top.

Wells would be clustered on pads spaced a half-mile apart, with one pad per 160 acres, BLM State Director Sally Wisely said. One operator would conduct all the groundwork for lease holders. Both moves would reduce the amount of disturbance to the land, she said.

Development would be allowed only on higher ridges, away from ecologically sensitive canyons and water resources, Wisely said.

A representative of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission was not immediately available to comment.

Others, including Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., urged the public to offer comments.

“The top of the Roan Plateau is one of Colorado’s special places, and I continue to believe that this area should not be opened to drilling for oil and gas at this time,” Salazar said in a written statement.

Pete Kolbenschlag of the Colorado Environmental Coalition said he was still reading the 440-page plan but said his first impression was that it wasn’t what communities wanted.

“It’s permitting quite a bit of oil and gas development in the very place people asked it not to happen,” he said. “It’s going to fundamentally alter the nature of the landscape. It would basically turn the ridges and much of the area into industrial landscape.”

Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said he was pleased the BLM considered suggestions from local governments and stakeholder groups.

The area includes 56,238 acres of Naval Oil Shale Reserves that Congress transferred from the Department of Energy to the BLM in 1997.

“That legislation specified that the resources remain available for development. Congress never intended to place the resources off limits,” Allard said.

The public has until Oct. 15 to submit protests to the plan, and Gov. Bill Owens has 60 days to review the plan to see whether it meets state law.

The BLM received nearly 75,000 comments on a draft of the management plan. The agency oversees 73,602 acres of federal land on the 9,000-foot plateau. Gas wells already have been drilled on private land there.

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