Cancel Roan leases and start over, conservationists tell land bureau

Conservation groups are calling on the Bureau of Land Management to cancel all the Roan Plateau oil and gas leases it issued in 2008 as it undertakes a new planning process, and to consider leasing only some of the plateau top.

The comments come ahead of today’s deadline for submitting them as the BLM begins a supplemental environmental impact statement for its management plan for the plateau and surrounding area.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger last summer remanded that plan back to the agency after a challenge by conservation groups. Krieger cited the BLM’s failure to adequately consider keeping rigs off the plateau top through the use of directional drilling, and to adequately analyze air quality impacts.

Under the plan, the BLM had leased about 55,000 acres for $114 million on top of and surrounding the plateau. Conservationists particularly want the top protected because of its importance as habitat for big game, fish and rare plants and its concentration of lands with wilderness characteristics.

In her ruling, Krieger declined the conservation groups’ request to cancel the leases, saying the BLM may find after further analysis that the leasing was warranted.

But in comments submitted by Earthjustice attorney Michael Freeman, the conservation groups said the BLM “should cancel the existing leases and start the new planning process on the blank slate” required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Those leases are void because they were issued without a valid policy act analysis, the groups said.

But David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said municipalities and counties might have to repay millions in federal distributions if the leases are revoked. 

“BLM is legally constrained from taking any action that would devalue (the companies’) leases or would otherwise seek to unilaterally and retroactively amend their lease terms or development rights. These actions would constitute a breach of the lease contract by BLM, affording our member companies the right to restitution and damages, he said.

The conservation groups want leasing restricted to the plateau top, which it says should have to be reached directionally from nearby private lands.

But Ludlam contends that the BLM “does not have the authority to compel private citizens to allow development of federal lands from ... private lands, given (that) limits to access to the federal surface would be of BLM’s own arbitrary making.”


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