Decision protects Roan acreage from drilling firms

A decision announced Thursday marks the culmination of a yearslong effort to protect land atop the Roan Plateau west of Rifle from oil and gas development.

The Bureau of Land Management decision fully adopted terms of a 2014 agreement settling litigation over a resource management plan for the Roan. Key to the deal, the plan bars oil and gas leasing of nearly 35,000 acres on top of the Roan for the life of the plan, which is expected to be about 20 years.

That acreage had been leased, but under previously executed terms of the settlement the 
government canceled the 17 leases and reimbursed Bill Barrett Corp. $47.6 million for them.

The revised management plan also subjects other leases covered by the plan to conditions aimed at reducing their impacts.

Thursday’s decision came as little surprise. In its final environmental impact statement released earlier this year, the Bureau of Land Management had identified as its preferred alternative one consistent with the legal settlement. Conservation and sportsmen groups involved in that settlement had agreed not to sue the BLM over its plan as long as it followed the terms of the deal.

“Today’s action represents the final step in the landmark settlement announced almost two years ago that brought together local, state, industry, sportsmen and conservation leaders,” the Interior Department and BLM said in a statement announcing Thursday’s decision.

Mike Freeman is an Earthjustice staff attorney who represented the groups who had challenged the BLM plan that led to some 55,000 acres being leased in and around the Roan Plateau in 2008. A federal judge in 2012 found fault with elements of that plan, leading the BLM to the plan revision finalized Thursday.

“Today’s plan protects the Roan Plateau for all Coloradans to enjoy,” Freeman said in a news release Thursday. “It’s been a long road, but this amazing place will finally get the protections it deserves.”

At one point Bill Barrett Corp. had talked of drilling more than 3,000 wells atop the Roan.

It retained two leases atop the plateau under the settlement.

Advocates for protecting the plateau top pointed to factors such as the dramatic landscape that includes waterfalls, cliffs and highlands; its high level of biological diversity; the presence of genetically pure Colorado River cutthroat trout in its streams, the important habitat it provides to deer and elk, and its importance to hunting, fishing, wildlife watching and other forms of recreation.

National BLM director Neil Kornze said during a news conference in Denver on Thursday that “something very important happened” when it came to the Roan issue.

“People put down their swords,” he said of the parties on the various sides of the issue. “… They came together, they sat down and they said, neighbor to neighbor, how do we figure this out,” he said.

David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said in a news release, “The BLM’s Roan plan recognizes that some natural areas of the Roan are too special and valuable to drill, while other areas can be responsibly developed to help meet our energy needs. It is the result of good-faith dialogue among industry, agencies and conservationists about finding balance and should serve as a model for how BLM can look at resource values on a landscape scale to determine where development should — and should not — take place.”

Today is the 323rd day of 2016. There are 43 days left in the year. 

On Nov. 18, 1966, U.S. Roman Catholic bishops issued a Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence, which did away with the rule against eating meat on Fridays outside of Lent. 

In 1883, the United States and Canada adopted a system of Standard Time zones.

In 1886, the 21st president of the U.S., Chester A. Arthur, died in New York.

In 1928, Walt Disney’s first sound-synchronized animated cartoon, “Steamboat Willie” starring Mickey Mouse, premiered in New York.

In 1942, “The Skin of Our Teeth,” Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning allegory about the history of humankind, opened on Broadway.

In 1959, “Ben-Hur,” the Biblical-era spectacle starring Charlton Heston, had its world premiere in New York.

In 1978, U.S. Rep. Leo J. Ryan, D-Calif., and four others were killed in Jonestown, Guyana, by members of the Peoples Temple; the killings were followed by a night of mass murder and suicide by more than 900 cult members.

Five years ago: Self-help author James Arthur Ray was sentenced to two years in prison for leading an Arizona sweat lodge ceremony that was supposed to offer spiritual enlightenment but instead resulted in three deaths.


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