Agreement Reached For Colorado’s Roan Plateau

Originally published on November 21, 2014 3:25 pm

The Bureau of Land Management, environmentalists, and the energy industry have reached an agreement on a proposal to drill for oil and gas on the Roan Plateau. The new plan cancels 17 out of 19 oil and gas leases that were issued in 2008. Two previous leases at the top of the plateau, and a dozen at the base will remain in place.

"These measures allow us to protect the plateau but harness some of the energy resources," said Governor John Hickenlooper.

The conflict dates back to 2008 when the BLM authorized the oil and gas leases to the Bill Barrett Corporation, but the issue of drilling on the Roan Plateau goes back to the early days of the Bush administration. Environmental groups sued to block the drilling, arguing federal regulators failed to fully examine the risks to wildlife and air quality. In 2012, U.S. District judge Marcia Krieger largely agreed and said the Bureau of Land Management didn't fully examine impact to air quality and regional ozone levels.

"The Roan Plateau is a stronghold for wildlife, rare plants, and some of Colorado's last pristine wildlands," said Earthjustice Attorney Michael Freeman, who represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "This settlement gives the Roan the protection that it deserves, but it also allows responsible energy development to move forward in parts of the plateau."

The BLM said this is the largest settlement of this kind to be reached. BLM Director Neil Kornze noted that "days like this don't come often enough."

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said the negotiations show how the BLM is moving away from site specific decisions to taking a broader look at energy development.

"It's important for all of us to get oil and gas leasing right the first time," Secretary Jewell said. "So the industry doesn't get drug through a long period of uncertainty and cost, and we don’t end up in a fight and we take care of those places that are too special to develop."

Directional drilling and technological advancements over the last decade are also expected to minimize the surface impact to the Roan. As part of the settlement, the Bill Barrett Corporation will receive a refund of $47.6 million in bids and annual rental payments.

"We are a company that strives for that balance," said CEO Scot Woodall. "Because we work for an oil and gas company doesn't mean we don't appreciate the environment."

Governor John Hickenlooper said he hopes this type of middle ground agreement could eventually be reached on Colorado's contentious debate over fracking along the Front Range near populated areas.

"We applaud the parties for setting aside their differences and charting a productive path forward," Hickenlooper said. "It really is the Colorado way."

You can read the agreement below:

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