No deal on the Roan Plateau

The legal saga of potential gas drilling on the Roan Plateau west of Rifle continues, with a return visit to federal district court in Denver now on the agenda.

It’s too bad that a compromise settlement couldn’t be reached between environmental organizations and Bill Barrett Corp., which controls the leases atop the plateau.

There was reason for hope that such a settlement might be reached earlier this year, after Barrett and a number of environmental organizations reached agreement on drilling in environmentally sensitive areas near national parks and monuments in eastern Utah.

But it was not to be. As federal Magistrate Judge Kristen L. Mix noted in an order last week, despite multiple rounds of negotiations and good-faith efforts by both sides, “settlement efforts are at an impasse.” Mix said the case will return to a federal judge in Denver to decide.

That’s not all bad. Judge Marcia Krieger is well-versed on the issues of the case. And the federal judiciary is designed to resolve these sorts of disputes over federal policy.

But nobody should expect a quick resolution. Even if Krieger acts speedily on the case, whichever side is the losing party in her decision is likely to appeal the ruling.

It’s already been the better part of a decade since the Bureau of Land Management first publicly contemplated leasing the area referred to as the Roan Plateau, in the Bookcliffs north of the Colorado River and immediately west of Rifle.

After several revisions to its leasing proposal, and the involvement of local, state and federal politicians, the BLM issued its final lease plan, calling for phased development on the top of the Roan, and placing some of the most environmentally sensitive areas off limits.

However, 10 environmental groups filed suit after the BLM leased 55,000 acres of the Roan in 2008, claiming the federal agency didn’t do enough to protect the biologically diverse plateau.

We would have preferred to see a settlement in this long-disputed case. But, since the two sides couldn’t reach agreement, despite repeated efforts, a decision by the federal judiciary is the only recourse left.


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