Roan Plateau drilling projection shouldn’t be considered in suit, company says

A company that has said it could drill as many as 3,200 wells on top of the Roan Plateau is contending the projection is merely conceptual, irrelevant to an ongoing lawsuit and shouldn’t be considered by a judge.

Bill Barrett Corp. makes the argument in a new defense of a government environmental analysis for that area based on only a few hundred wells.

Its defense is contained in one of a flurry of recent court filings in a lawsuit by conservation groups challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s 2008 leasing of 55,000 acres for oil and gas development on and around the Roan Plateau near Rifle.

A federal magistrate ruled in October that court-ordered negotiations in the case failed to reach a settlement, and the matter instead would be left for a judge to decide. The subsequent filings have been aimed at making final arguments in the case.

In one filing, Bill Barrett Corp. argues against the court considering the well projections it made in an industry conference presentation and a Securities and Exchange Commission prospectus.

Those documents were prepared more than two years after the BLM decided to lease the plateau, “and for a different purpose,” Bill Barrett Corp. says in its filing.

It adds the “presentation was only a concept and not an actual development proposal to the BLM or an approved development plan.”

Any such plan would be subject to further BLM review and separate environmental analysis, the company said.

Conservation groups argue the 3,200-well projection bolsters their contention in the lawsuit that the BLM violated the law by failing to evaluate the full environmental impacts of reasonably foreseeable development on top of the plateau.

The BLM evaluated the impacts of 210 wells it predicted would be drilled over 20 years rather than the more than 1,000 it thought eventually might be drilled there, the conservation groups contend.

In an earlier response to the lawsuit, the government defended its failure to look at impacts beyond 20 years, saying it isn’t required to analyze impacts “that are speculative or too remote.”

Conservation groups contend in their own filings that Bill Barrett Corp. has described to state officials a plan to drill 3,037 wells in only 20 years.

Bill Barrett Corp.‘s filing says its “hypothetical development scenario and the economic benefits from that development are completely irrelevant to this case.”

Conservation groups say the industry itself had argued during the BLM’s planning process that the 210-well projection was “grossly unrealistic.”

They say Bill Barrett Corp.‘s plans closely match what the industry’s own development predictions had been.

Bill Barrett Corp. said the 210-well projection was reasonably based on information available to the BLM at the time concerning factors such as general rates of development and areas closed to drilling.


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