W. Slope rep calls for fair Roan study

Al White warns state officials against playing politics with a review of possibly lucrative gas drilling on the plateau. By Steve Raabe The Denver Post

Article Last Updated: 11/14/2007 04:05:49 AM MST

Colorado's ranking Republican on the legislature's Joint Budget Committee has joined the debate on drilling for natural gas on the Roan Plateau, warning state officials not to "play politics" with a pending study.

State Rep. Al White, whose western Colorado district includes the targeted drilling area, said the state could lose billions of dollars in needed revenue if a study by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources discourages development of the area.

White said he is undecided on whether the scenic plateau should be opened to large-scale energy development.

But he's concerned, he said, that the DNR study, ordered by Gov. Bill Ritter, may underestimate the value of the Roan's gas and the economic benefit to Colorado.

A politically motivated underestimate of the resource would "increase the perceived political risk of execution by the private sector and will actually end up reducing Colorado's future receipts," White said in a Nov. 1 letter to Harris Sherman, executive director of the DNR.

The pending study will be forwarded next month to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which has proposed a plan to open up about 52,000 acres on the plateau for development.

The issue has been highly controversial. Environmental groups have been critical of a report issued by the energy-industry-backed Americans for American Energy, which said lease payments and royalties from gas production in the area could bring revenue to Colorado of up to $6 billion over 30 years.

White said a BLM energy-lease sale last week that attracted a high bid of $26,000 an acre for a Garfield County parcel "seems to justify some of the higher-end (industry projections) as opposed to the lowball numbers the enviros are throwing around."

Environmental groups have said the revenue potential is as little as one-fifth of the industry's estimate of $1.2 billion in the first year of drilling.

Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Deb Frazier said the agency's analysis "will be solid and thorough and based on defensible assumptions."

Steve Raabe: 303-954-1948 or sraabe@denverpost.com