Colorado voters "solidly" back drilling on the natural gas-rich Roan Plateau, a statewide poll has found.

An opinion poll of 602 "active" voters on a variety of statewide issues was conducted by Hill Research Consultants Aug. 4-7. Respondents were asked about a variety of issues, including the economic outlook, taxes, transportation and the environment. The sampling error was plus or minus 4%.

Asked whether energy companies should be allowed to drill on the Roan Plateau to reduce dependence on oil imports, 60% said they approved of drilling; 31% disapproved. Another 9% were unsure whether the drilling should be allowed.

"The electorate strongly favors development of oil and gas resources on the Roan Plateau, especially if higher education and locals benefit," the survey noted. Sixty-six percent were "more likely" to support drilling, and 28% were "less likely" to support it.

The Bureau of Land Management in Colorado split the baby on the controversial question of drilling on the Roan Plateau in June, opening it up to carefully programmed drilling activity on less than half, or about 34,000 acres, of the plateau area (see NGI, June 18). 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. Industry estimates that the region contains 4-6 Tcf of recoverable reserves.

However, in August the BLM granted the state four more months to study and comment on the plan (see NGI, Aug. 13). Proponents and critics of the plan have been facing off since. U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) said last month she planned to reintroduce a broad wilderness bill to ban oil and gas drilling on a large portion of the Roan (see NGI, Sept. 17). Colorado Democratic Reps. March Udall and John Salazar also included a measure to prohibit gas drilling on the Roan in the energy policy reform legislation passed in August (see NGI, Aug. 6).

J. Greg Schnacke, CEO of Americans for American Energy, said that in many ways, the Roan Plateau has become symbolic of the fight over whether America should seek to become less dependent on foreign energy.

"There is no question developing clean-burning natural gas in North American locations like the Roan Plateau will help reduce our need to import gas and other energy supplies from foreign nations," Schnacke said. "The more gas from North America we can produce, the less pressure there will be to import that gas from other countries, some of which are downright hostile to America."

Energy revenues from the plateau could be substantial, Schnacke said. A analysis by the group estimates that Colorado could gain up to $1 billion in the first year the area is leased for drilling. Nearly $5 billion in royalties and production taxes could be realized over a 30-year period. In addition, the state would benefit from an economic impact of more than $11 billion spent over the life of the project.

The poll also asked voters for the "best" way to pay for the state's top priorities, and 6% said it should be through energy severance taxes. Of those asked, 12% considered energy severance taxes as one of the best ways to pay for state priorities. Five percent said energy production severance taxes were the "most fair" way to tax residents. By 53%, state residents also favor the repeal of property tax breaks for energy producers. Those opposed numbered 42%; 9% of those responding were unsure whether tax breaks should be repealed.

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