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Meeting on Alternatives to Roan Plateau Drilling Irks Producers

Independent producers say they are being shut out of closed-door meetings that could lead to legislation altering the gas drilling plan for Colorado's Roan Plateau in the Piceance Basin.

The Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States (IPAMS) sent a letter to U.S. Rep. John Salazar (D-CO) voicing disappointment over not being invited to a meeting that Salazar and Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) have scheduled Thursday with local elected officials, environmentalists and the Colorado Division of Wildlife. The meeting is being held to explore possible legislative alternatives to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) proposed plan to allow drilling on top of the plateau.

"If you are thinking about creating a new proposal for energy development, it might not be a bad idea to invite someone with expertise in the field who understands what's feasible and technically possible," IPAMS Executive Director Marc W. Smith said in the letter.

Citing a long list of benefits Colorado receives from energy producers, suppliers and drilling contractors, Smith said Colorado producers are worried about their jobs being threatened by potential legislation. "If you restrict development, you will not only endanger countless livelihoods but also drive up the cost of energy to your constituents...," he said.

"Narrowly focused closed-door hearings disguised as 'public meetings' that thwart the public process are not likely to result in the balanced governance your constituents expect...The thousands of working families in the Colorado oil and gas industry are counting on you to at least provide them with a seat at the table when discussing their future."

Tara Trujillo, a spokeswoman for Salazar, said the meetings will be open to the public. "People can attend and listen to these organizations present alternatives to drilling on top of the Roan Plateau," she said.

"The meeting was requested by these groups who wanted to have the opportunity to offer alternatives to drilling... John Salazar supports responsible drilling and the economic development it offers," said Trujillo. "However, he has always opposed drilling on top of the Roan Plateau."

The BLM's proposed resource management plan (RMP) was released last September (see Daily GPI, Sept. 8, 2006). Producers already claim it is overly restrictive because it includes some unusual requirements, such as allowing only one oil and gas development company to be the operator for all the leases on top of the plateau itself, which represents about 50% of the total western Colorado planning area in the Piceance Basin.

The plateau rises 3,000 feet northwest of the town of Rifle, CO, in the mineral-rich Uinta-Piceance Basin. The planning area includes the 56,238 acres of Naval Oil Shale Reserves 1 and 3, which were originally set aside as mineral reserves and transferred to BLM from the Department of Energy by Congress in 1997. According to the RMP, about 1,570 mainly gas wells would be allowed on a total of 193 well pads over a 20-year period. On top of the plateau, 210 wells on 13 pads would be allowed.

Oil and gas development would be phased so that no more than 1% of the 34,758 acres on top of the plateau would be disturbed at any one time. More than 50% of the area on top of and below the plateau would be stipulated "no surface occupancy" to create wildlife seclusion areas, protect Colorado River cutthroat trout and water resources and protect views from local highways and communities. However, environmentalists and area communities had called for keeping drilling off the plateau's top. They say the management plan doesn't address some of the public's concerns and legislation protecting the area would be appropriate. The BLM is reviewing protests to the RMP and is expected to issue a final decision by summer.

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