Mesa, Rio Blanco to join GarCo push for drilling on Roan

Rio Blanco and Mesa counties are poised to join Garfield County in backing the existing Bureau of Management plan for drilling on top of the Roan Plateau near Rifle.

The counties are adding their support after a recent court ruling that the BLM plan must undergo further review.

Garfield County commissioners last week approved a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar saying the county supports the current plan.

“As it stands, the plan will result in the most environmentally sensitive natural gas development ever undertaken in the United States,” the letter says. “We will be able to enjoy the benefits of energy development while protecting the resources on the Roan Plateau.”

Rio Blanco County Commissioner Ken Parsons said commissioners there feel the same way and probably will approve a similar letter today.

“It’s probably one of the best plans that I’ve seen anyway in terms of the limited surface occupancy (for drilling). There’s a lot of restrictions in there,” he said.

Also today, Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis is scheduled to seek the support of his fellow commissioners in sending Salazar a letter endorsing Garfield County’s position.

Ruling in late June in a lawsuit brought by conservation groups, U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Krieger set aside the BLM plan that led to leasing 55,000 acres on and around the Roan Plateau in 2008 for oil and gas development. Krieger ruled that the BLM failed to adequately consider keeping drilling off the plateau top by making use of directional drilling from surrounding lands, and failed to sufficiently consider air quality issues, and specifically ozone impacts.

However, she decided against canceling the leases, saying the BLM may find after further analysis that the leasing was warranted.

Garfield County says in its letter that it was “heartened” that the leases weren’t canceled and Krieger affirmed the BLM’s interpretation of what’s known as the Transfer Act. She ruled it was correct in determining it was required to lease “some meaningful part” of the plateau top based on the 1990s law transferring the land to the agency from the Department of Energy.

Bob Millette of Glenwood Springs, conservation chairman of the Roaring Fork Group of the Sierra Club, said the Garfield commissioners’ position shows they “are not listening to the people of their county and not concerned about the well-being of their constituents.”

He said directional drilling has advanced in its reach over the years, allowing it to be used to develop more natural gas from around the plateau top while protecting it.


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