Mesa drilling now top priority

Mesa drilling now top priority

Federal land managers have opted to open the top of the Roan Plateau to oil and gas drilling without waiting until resources at the bottom of the plateau are tapped.

And that no-delay variation from an earlier preferred management plan has drawn a protest from Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., and a request that the new leasing plan for the 3,500-foot-high mesa along Interstate 70 in western Colorado be opened up to public comment.

“This is a new plan that has not been publicized. We think they should open it up for public review,” said Cody Wertz, a spokesman for Salazar.

Salazar, who has opposed drilling on top of the ecologically diverse mesa, on Monday sent a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne asking that the final environmental impact statement and resource management plan be delayed 60 days for public comment and review.

“The new leasing program was not identified until after the close of the public review and comment period on the Draft Plan, and the specific details of the program have never been made public,” Salazar wrote.

Bureau of Land Management spokesman David Boyd said the agency has no intention of taking more public comment on a plan that combines components of five alternatives presented in the draft plan released in late 2004. The BLM received more than 74,000 comments during the ensuing public review.

Boyd said he could not release details of the final plan except to say that it would allow “very restricted drilling on top” and would not delay that drilling.

The preferred alternative in the draft plan would have kept drilling off the top of the plateau for an estimated 16 years by deferring any drilling on top until 80 percent of the potential drilling at the base was completed.

“The BLM could be on shaky ground (with the new plan),” said Pete Kolbenschlag of the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

Boyd pointed out that the alternatives in the draft plan were shaped into the new plan by community leaders and agency officials in six months of open meetings last year. Representatives of counties and towns in the vicinity of the plateau participated in that process and were largely opposed to drilling on top of the plateau.

Boyd said the Colorado Department of Natural Resources took the lead in crafting the new plan that will take into account comments on the earlier drafts.

In August, the natural resources department proposed that federal land on the plateau’s top be leased in 2,500-acre blocks and development timed so that no more than 200 acres would be disturbed at once, The Associated Press reported. One company would do the actual drilling, reducing the number of pipelines and roads and cutting traffic and other disruptions to wildlife. The other companies with leases would share in the expenses and the profits in proportion to their investment.

Boyd said the final plan is still being “refined” and is expected to be released in late August. There will be a 30-day protest period before the plan goes to Gov. Bill Owens, who will have 60 days to review it.


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