U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) plans to reintroduce a broad wilderness bill this week that would bar oil and natural gas drilling on a large portion of the Roan Plateau in western Colorado.

The legislation would seek to protect 62 separate areas in Colorado, comprising 1.65 million acres, as wilderness lands, with the Roan Plateau listed as one of the areas. Specifically, it proposes to place 40,494 acres of the plateau off-limits to producers.

The bill "in its totality is not as formidable as may seem -- at 1.65 million acres, the Colorado Wilderness Act makes up one-eighth of total Bureau of Land Management public land and only 7% of total public land" in Colorado, DeGette said.

"While there is room for energy development and leasing on our public lands, with over 80% of land available for oil and gas leasing, I think some of our most beautiful and sensitive areas should be off-limits," she noted.

The House lawmaker is trying to primarily preserve the top and cliffs of the Roan Plateau, said spokesman Chris Arend. The BLM "has found wilderness up there," he noted.

DeGette has introduced her bill each year since 1999, but she has never gotten a hearing on it, Arend said. She already has had preliminary talks with House Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV), and thinks she may have a better shot this year.

The lawmaker also indicated she supports a proposal, sponsored by Colorado Democratic Reps. March Udall and John Salazar, that would prohibit natural gas well drilling on the Roan Plateau as well. The measure was included in energy policy reform legislation, which the House passed in early August (see NGI, Aug. 6).

In June, the BLM split the baby on the controversial question of drilling on the Roan Plateau, opening it up to carefully programmed drilling activity on less than half, or about 34,000 acres, of the plateau area. The decision set aside about 17,000 acres with the restriction of no surface occupancy and proposed that the ban be extended to another 21,000 acres in special areas it has labeled as environmentally critical (see NGI, June 18). Industry estimates that the region contains 4-6 Tcf of recoverable reserves.

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