The Roan Plateau in western Colorado will be protected from most new oil and gas development, under a deal announced Friday.
Environmentalists have been fighting drilling plans since the area was leased six years ago.
Under the terms of the settlement, the federal government will refund the Bill Barrett Corporation around $47.6 million and cancel 17 of its leases, covering 36,000 acres atop the plateau.
The arrangement also speeds up Barrett’s ability to drill on its two remaining leases around the base of the formation.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called the settlement a win-win for the company and the environment.
"The industry doesn’t get drug through a prolonged period of uncertainty and cost, and we take care of those places that are too special to develop," Jewell said.
The Bureau of Land Management auctioned off drilling rights to the Roan Plateau in 2008 in a sale that was, at the time, the highest dollar on-shore lease auction in US history. But development of the leases was put on hold after environmental groups sued the Bureau, claiming the area was too ecologically-sensitive to merit oil and gas drilling.
Bill Barrett CEO Scot Woodall says after years of legal wrangling, his company was ready to give up some of its leases in order to be able to start develop the remainder.
"Having the certainty of a timeline instead of having to go through a court system or through a legal system," said Woodall. "We now can plan our business and know when we can go and monetize our assets.
This is not the first time the federal government has moved to protect land it’s already leased, but BLM director Neil Kornz described it as the largest such deal so far.