Talks reach impasse in Roan Plateau drilling suit

A judge will be left to rule on a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s oil and gas leasing on the Roan Plateau near Rifle after court-ordered negotiations failed to reach a settlement.

“After multiple rounds of settlement negotiations and diligent efforts by all parties, settlement negotiations are at an impasse,” federal Magistrate Judge Kristen L. Mix wrote in an order issued this week. “Given that the issues in the case are fully briefed and ripe for resolution, the matter will be resolved in due course and in consideration of the District Judge’s overall docket.”

Colorado U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Krieger is presiding over the case.

Ten conservation groups brought the suit to challenge the Bureau of Land Management’s 2008 leasing of some 55,000 acres on the plateau for oil and gas development. Several companies hold the leases. Bill Barrett Corp. controls the leases on the plateau top, where conservation groups hope drilling will be prevented altogether.

The leases have been deferred pending resolution of the case.

The BLM declined to comment because the litigation is ongoing.

The conservation groups said in a joint statement Thursday that the Roan Plateau is one of the state’s top areas for biodiversity, with rare plants, unique ecosystems and pure strains of Colorado River cutthroat trout.

“We have worked tirelessly to ensure that the Roan Plateau gets the protection it deserves.  We remain willing to keep talking to find a reasonable solution,” the groups said. “…. We believe that our challenge to the leasing decisions on the Roan remains on solid legal ground, and urge the Obama administration to develop a plan for the Roan Plateau that awards these public lands the full protection they warrant.”

Barrett spokesman Jim Felton said, “I think we have a compelling case to make, legally, technically, operationally, economically, and those will be some of the major threads that we’ll work to present before a judge.”

Felton said the company had hoped to agree with conservation groups to some mutual concessions and “try to find areas of mutual agreement and mutual interest.”


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