Barrett sees roses in Roan’s murky future

As far as Bill Barrett Corp. is concerned, the glory days of natural gas development in the Piceance Basin are apparently far from over.

Witness the company’s announcement this week that it will spend $60 million to acquire control of nearly 35,000 acres of federal gas leases atop the Roan Plateau.

The payoff could be as much as 2 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas.

But Barrett also recognizes the environmental issues related to the controversial prospect of drilling on the plateau. As a spokesman for the company put it, “There may be opportunity to give up certain leases that have a high ecological value and lower oil and gas value.” Barrett Senior Vice President Duan Zavadil also said, “Any and all opportunities for settlement are on the table.”

“Settlement” refers to the legal battle between environmental groups, the Bureau of Land Management and Vantage Energy, which acquired the Roan leases at auction last August. A coalition of environmental organizations sued, challenging the validity of the leases.

For some in the environmental community, the only acceptable resolution to this fight is to reject any drilling on the federal lands atop the Roan Plateau.

Others, more pragmatic, recognize they are unlikely to halt drilling entirely, and understand they should look to protect natural resources while drilling occurs.

We hope the pragmatists prevail.

Early on, this newspaper sided with municipal governments in Garfield County that wanted to prevent any drilling on top of the Roan. But, as it became clear that BLM officials believed they didn’t have the authority to prohibit drilling on top of the plateau, we argued for drilling plans that would give as much protection as possible to the natural resources and the recreational opportunities on the Roan.

The management plan released by the BLM nearly two years ago wasn’t perfect, but it goes further than most plans for drilling on federal lands to balance the requirements of protecting natural resources with the legitimate need to develop mineral resources.

Now Bill Barrett Corp. has offered to go even further, looking at ways it might reduce the scope of the leases in the most environmentally fragile areas.

The current status of the natural gas industry in Western Colorado is well known. It is dismal, due to a variety of national, state and regional factors.

Barrett’s purchase of the Roan leases won’t reverse those trends. But it does send a message of confidence in the future of the gas business in this region — so long as the legal issues surrounding the leases can be resolved.

Here’s hoping the environmental groups involved in the lawsuit and the judge overseeing it will recognize the efforts Barrett is making to reach a settlement and work with the company to resolve the dispute. Then, perhaps, Barrett can do what it hopes to do — begin development on the Roan leases early next year.


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