Cold-weather spills may help case against drilling on Roan leases

A growing number of cold-weather oil and gas spills in Garfield County bolsters the argument against drilling where federal leases were issued in 2008 on the Roan Plateau, says an attorney who is involved in a legal challenge of the leases.

Michael Freeman of the legal organization Earthjustice said state records show 31 spills occurred in the county from Nov. 1 through Jan. 31, compared to 19 for the same period a year earlier.

He said 13 of the incidents occurred on or near the plateau, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s database.

Freeman said the incidents help illustrate that if drilling occurs on the newly leased areas on public land on the plateau, spills will follow, threatening rare plants and fish, including genetically pure Colorado River cutthroat trout.

The Daily Sentinel reported earlier this year that frozen valves and other problems related to cold temperatures resulted in at least a half-dozen early-winter leaks and spills involving Garfield County oil and gas operations.

Freeman said the story prompted Earthjustice to look into the issue more closely.

Its findings “really just confirmed our sense that when it comes to spills and accidents on the Roan, the question’s not if, but when, and how many,” he said.

Freeman is helping represent the Colorado Environmental Coalition and other plaintiffs who sued the federal government over the Bureau of Land Management’s leasing of some 55,000 acres on and around the plateau.

The plaintiffs are particularly concerned about trying to protect the plateau top, where Bill Barrett Corp. owns the leases.

None of the 13 spills Earthjustice found in the area of the plateau involved Barrett.

But Freeman said state records show dozens of spill reports involving the company’s operations elsewhere since 2005.

Bill Barrett spokesman Jim Felton said past spills around the plateau took place because of operator error.

“We’re not going to make those mistakes,” he said, citing the decades of experience company personnel have in the area.

He said Earthjustice is making “Chicken Little accusations” to scare people into contributing money to their efforts.

BLM spokesman Steven Hall said he couldn’t speak to the Roan Plateau situation in particular, because of the pending lawsuit.

But he said, “We have the most environmental restrictions, and the most environmentally sensitive (oil and gas) development in Colorado occurs on public lands, and that’s due to our legal process and the federal requirements that we have in place.”


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