A bipartisan group of Colorado lawmakers urged U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell this week to sign off on an agreement that would end a decade-long dispute over natural gas leasing on the Roan Plateau, a settlement worked out between the energy industry and conservation groups.

In sensitive habitat areas on the top of the plateau, leases held by Bill Barrett Corp. and other producers would be canceled under terms of the agreement. Development would be allowed in other parts of the leasehold, however, including at the base of the plateau.

The agreement has been endorsed by the producers, settling a lawsuit first brought in 2008 by 10 conservation groups over the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) decision to lease about 55,000 acres in and around the Roan Plateau (see Daily GPI, Oct. 1, 2008; July 16, 2008). Two years ago, a U.S. district court in Denver remanded the drilling plan back to BLM (see Daily GPI, June 26, 2012).

Barrett officials had said in 2012 they planned to move forward with drilling once BLM's revamped Roan plans were approved. Barrett originally had filed plans to drill up to 3,200 gas wells on its leases, a project that was filed when prices were higher than they are currently.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, on Wednesday sent a joint letter to Jewell with U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, and Republican Rep. Scott Tipton. The agreement, they wrote, is a "unique opportunity" to resolve the divide and "allow for responsible development of the plateau's natural resources and protection of sensitive wildlife habitat...

"This agreement represents the collaboration of the oil and gas industry, environmental organizations, many local governments, the state of Colorado and our respective offices,” the letter said. "While the settlement requires a temporary drawback of state and federal funds, collaborators and the state of Colorado have committed to ensuring that local governments will not ultimately lose any resources they realized through the initial lease sale that prompted the litigation.

"With this last important condition, the local governments in question support the proposed agreement. We request that you take prompt action to finalize the proposed settlement agreement."