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BLM's Long Contested Roan Plateau Plan Retains Options for Oil, NatGas Development

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Colorado on Tuesday released the final supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) and proposed plan for the long-controversial Roan Plateau in Western Colorado that is highly coveted by producers and naturalists alike.

The final SEIS and the proposed plan cover an area of about 73,800 acres of federal lands, including the 56,000 acres of Naval Oil Shale Reserves. The resource management plan (RMP) amendment and final SEIS cover the Roan Plateau Planning Area located in parts of Garfield and Rio Blanco counties. Under the proposed plan, the area atop the plateau that includes 17 oil and gas leases canceled in 2014 would be closed to any leasing. Two remaining leases on the plateau and 12 below the rim retained in a settlement two years ago remain open to leasing and development. 

"The purpose of amending the existing RMPs for the Roan Plateau Planning Area is to provide an integrated land-use plan that guides future site-specific analysis and decisions in accordance with specific goals and objectives based on the direction provided by numerous laws, mandates, policies and plans," BLM said. The final SEIS directed BLM  to address a community alternative recommended by local governments, environmental organizations and individual citizens; cumulative air quality impacts for anticipated oil/gas development on private lands outside the planning area as a result of the RMP amendment; and potential ozone impacts from oil/gas development.

“It has been more than two decades since DOE transferred the Naval Oil Shale Reserves 1 and 3 to BLM for the express purpose of developing the natural gas resource," said Western Energy Alliance spokeswoman Kathleen Sgamma. "We're just glad that this final EIS is done and responsible development can move forward."

While expressing distaste for "locking away resources in the core of the Piceance Basin," West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association Executive Director David Ludlam said the final SEIS would allow producers to "retain some value from their $120 million investment. Now leases formally held hostage at the base of the Roan will be de-shackled and allowed re-entry into the nation's energy portfolio in the coming years."

The energy industry had criticized the BLM's draft EIS because of the 17 lease cancellations, arguing that it would severely set back development in parts of western Colorado, including previously issued leases in the Thompson Divide and Roan Plateau (see Shale Daily, Nov. 19, 2015).

Sgamma said "it certainly has been a long road -- almost two decades -- to get to this point." She said the final SEIS is a "compromise" among leaseholders, environmentalists and others.

"The SEIS and proposed plan address the long-standing issues surrounding oil/gas development and resource management on and around the plateau," said a BLM spokesperson. Concerns were addressed from a 2012 court decision and subsequent 2014 landmark settlement agreement resolving pending litigation.

BLM Director Neil Kornze said the final SEIS moves the Obama administration "one step closer to finally resolving the controversy surrounding the Roan Plateau, implementing the vision put forward in 2014 by a group of local, state and industry leaders, as well as sportsmen and conservationists." The SEIS protects some of Colorado's "most important fish and wildlife habitat while also allowing for the responsible development of oil and gas resources."

According to BLM, the final SEIS took into consideration more than 50,000 public comments received on the draft SEIS with the "vast majority" of those comments urging BLM  to follow the 2014 settlement. Colorado BLM Director Ruth Welch called the final SEIS the "penultimate step" for the Roan settlement commitments to bring the project to a final resolution.

Energy and environmental history has permeated the area of Western Colorado since 1910 when U.S. Oil Shale Reserve 1 and 3 were identified. It wasn't until 1997 that the land was transferred to the BLM from the Department of Energy. At the time, BLM was directed to lease the area for oil/gas development "as soon as practicable, while protecting wildlife and natural resources," according to BLM. Of the 56,238 acres transferred to BLM, Congress required that slightly more than 12,000 acres below the rim be leased within a year.

The development of this next-to-final step dates back nearly 16 years when the notice of intent to develop a federal RMP was first released. This led to draft and final planning and EIS documents, and eventually a July 2008 lawsuit challenged BLM's oil/gas leasing and management decision for the Roan Plateau.

The decision was subsequently upheld in a June 22, 2012 Colorado federal district court decision supporting BLM's interpretation of applicable federal law (see Daily GPIJune 26, 2012). Ultimately, a settlement was reached in late 2014 on the six-year-old legal case (see Shale DailyNov. 21, 2014).

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