Where do we go to reclaim the Roan Plateau?

A spider web of well pads connected by gravel roads stretch for miles, as far as the eye can see across the top of the Roan Plateau.

A spider web of well pads and facilities connected by gravel roads stretches for miles, as far as the eye can see, across the top of the Roan Plateau.

Today’s breaking news —

Colorado Roan Plateau drilling battle leads to legal compromise

The decade-long battle over drilling on western Colorado’s Roan Plateau — a lofty oasis rich in wildlife and natural gas — eased on Friday with federal and state officials announcing a legal settlement.

Nearly all of the Bureau of Land Management leases that allow Bill Barrett Corp. to drill on top of the plateau will be canceled, and $47.6 million will be paid back to the company. Drilling would be allowed on ecologically sensitive areas below the rim and around the base of the Roan.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and BLM chief Neil Kornze announced the settlement Friday afternoon in the Colorado capitol. Oil and gas industry and conservation groups also attended.

Jewell said the settlement was “a commonsense resolution to a very contentious issue.”

The agreement cancels 17 of 19 leases on top of the Roan that were issued in 2008. The other two leases on atop the Roan and 12 leases at the base will remain.

“This is really a big win for wildlife and energy development too,” said John Gale of the National Wildlife Federation.

BLM officials will continue to develop a more-protective plan for drilling in the area, which rises from the Colorado River valley near Rifle to an undulating 54,000-acre open area with arching ridges, buttresses and spires at elevations up to 9,200 feet …

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Governor Hickenlooper issued a joint statement via an Interior Department news release.

Jewell: “This is great news for the state of Colorado and for the local community who has worked hard to strike a balance between protecting open space and energy development. The Roan Plateau is an extraordinary place, and this settlement is a model for what can be accomplished when we all come to the table and work to find solutions.”

Hickenlooper: “We are thrilled to see resolution for this decade-long controversy over one of Colorado’s most special places. This settlement will protect the valuable fish and wildlife resources atop the Roan Plateau, while clearing the way for orderly development to take place elsewhere in the planning area. We applaud the parties for setting aside their differences and charting a productive path forward. It really is the Colorado way.”

Hickenlooper has promised local governments that they will not be responsible for refunding the canceled leases.

Read more politically postured platitudes from government and industry types in the Post Independent:  Roan gas lease settlement announced

Other notable terms of the settlement include:

  • BLM will pay $400,000 in attorney fees and expenses incurred by the conservation groups behind the lawsuit.
  • There is no guarantee that the acreage covered in the canceled leases will be off-limits to future leasing. If that should occur, the conservation groups or other stakeholders could challenge the BLM’s actions.
  • Bill Barrett Corp. is limited to a total of seven well pad sites on their two remaining Roan Plateau leases.
  • Twelve other leases issued under the contested 2008 lease sale will remain in place. WPX Energy, Oxy USA and Ursa Resources own those leases. Before drilling takes place, the operators will be required to submit master development plans, which include their obligation to consult with the BLM and Colorado Parks and Wildlife and come up with ways to minimize impacts on wildlife and other environmental resources.

Read the Wilderness Workshop’s fact sheet at A New Day for Conservation: Protection for Colorado’s Roan Plateau

I’m glad a settlement was finally reached. I’m glad the politicians are happy. I’m glad the industry reps aren’t bitching. But as you look at these photos it’s obvious that all of this comes six years too late for the environment. They have sacrificed a wilderness zone. The damage cannot be undone.  Nowhere — not in any of the press releases or news articles or fact sheets —  is there any mention of the word “reclamation.”

So I ask the question:  Where do we go to reclaim the Roan Plateau?

Oil & gas development on top of the Roan Plateau [Photo courtesy Ecoflight]

Oil & gas development on top of the Roan Plateau [Photo courtesy Ecoflight]

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