Possible respite from drilling makes Roan advocates happy

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is considering whether to reverse course on the leasing of about 55,000 acres in the Roan Plateau area.

Cordoning off the area to drilling or changing lease terms raised questions about millions of dollars paid to Colorado by the federal government from proceeds of the auction in August.

The possibility drew applause from environmental groups and fire from the energy industry.

The Colorado Mountain Club, which opposed last year’s leasing, was pleased that Salazar listed the decision among about a dozen Bush administration decisions that would be reviewed by the new administration, spokeswoman Clare Bastable said.

“We’re hopeful he’ll find those decisions were made in error and the Roan will live to see another day,” Bastable said.

Halting the development of the area “would be contrary to the Obama administration’s goals of tackling climate change and energy security,” said Kathleen Sgamma, director of governmental affairs for the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States.

The 9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could provide clean energy that would back up intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, Sgamma said.

Withdrawing the Roan leases could pose a budgetary problem for the state of Colorado.
Colorado has received its share of mineral royalties collected by the federal government and split almost equally with the state.

The Bureau of Land Management collected $113.5 million from the Aug. 14 auction and in November sent along the state’s share, abut $47 million, to Denver.

Salazar’s action of this week to withdraw 77 leases from a lease sale in December in Utah is far different from withdrawing the Roan lands, an industry official said.

In the case of the Utah leases, the Bureau of Land Management will return $6 million in royalty payments from an auction that was thrown into disarray by a bidder who had no intention of paying for the leases on which he bid.

Leases for the Roan Plateau already have been issued to bidders, Sgamma said.

“Those companies have a valid, existing right, which is a contract with the government,” she said.

State officials have yet to receive royalty payments because production has yet to begin.

There is no immediate rush to develop the plateau because a federal injunction prevents any drilling pending court action in June, Earthjustice attorney Jim Angell said.

In any case, “there are ways to suspend the leases so they can take a new look” at how to lease out the plateau, Angell said, noting that Gov. Bill Ritter sought a slower schedule for leasing than the one approved by the BLM.

“It looks like nothing is happening precipitously,” he said.


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