By Todd Hartman, Rocky Mountain News August 7, 2007
A move to ban drilling atop the Roan Plateau in northwest Colorado marked the latest turn in what has become a bruising battle involving Congress, environmental groups and industry.
The U.S. House this weekend approved a provision banning oil and gas extraction on federal lands atop the plateau as part of the 2007 energy bill.
Democrats John Salazar and Mark Udall, both representatives from Colorado, pushed the provision.
The amendment now moves to a conference committee to hash out differences with a Senate version of the energy bill, an event that won't likely occur until Congress returns from its August recess.
If it survives, it would override a Bureau of Land Management plan issued in June that called for drilling on parts of public land atop the Roan.
Instead, industry would have to access natural gas by drilling from the side of the plateau, or on private lands on the top.
The move in the House came a day after U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, also a Democrat, persuaded the federal government to give the state of Colorado 120 days to analyze the BLM's decision before it leases any land for drilling - time sought by Gov. Bill Ritter who has argued that his new administration needs a chance to analyze and comment on the agency's plan.
The Roan has become a flash point between environmentalists - who want its rugged backcountry and wildlife spared the impacts of drilling rigs - and industry officials who want access to its large stores of natural gas.
Salazar said he's acting on behalf of thousands of constituents who oppose drilling on the Roan, including local elected officials, residents and sportsmen.
"The Roan is so important for its above-ground hunting and angling resources," said Brian O'Donnell of the conservation group Trout Unlimited. "Keeping it intact is the best option for sportsmen who appreciate the unique fishing and the trophy-hunting opportunities available atop the Roan."
But state Sen. Josh Penry, a Republican from Fruita who supports the BLM plan, said many others, including county commissioners and state lawmakers in the region, support the BLM plan. Shutting off exploration in an area with 4 percent of the nation's natural gas reserves is shortsighted, he said.
The BLM plan for the Roan "is the most restrictive management plan in the history of the American West, and it has a lot to give the economy in terms of royalty payments back to Colorado," Penry said.
Greg Schnacke, of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said the BLM's restrictions for the Roan are "apparently not enough for those who want to stop the drilling."