Ritter gives tepid nod to Roan drilling


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Natural gas drilling atop the Roan Plateau should continue, Gov. Bill Ritter acknowledged Thursday, so long as the federal government protects the plateau’s environmentally sensitive assets.

“I think we can strike a balance that’s going to benefit Colorado’s environment, economy, communities involved … and certainly the energy industry,” Ritter said.

In a letter sent to Sally Wisely, state director for the Bureau of Land Management, Ritter said he hopes the agency will work to ensure watersheds, wildlife habitat and other aspects of critical environmental importance are protected as development moves ahead.

Ritter requested the BLM protect several places atop the plateau that the agency has not flagged as areas of critical concern.

He also requested incremental leasing of the federal lands.

Phased leasing could garner Colorado higher leasing revenue, let Colorado better utilize new drilling technologies and enable communities surrounding the Roan to accommodate development, state Department of Natural Resources Director Harris Sherman said.

The governor’s letter and comments came at the end of a 120-day review period, which the Interior Department granted the state in early August.

The question of whether and how to develop the Roan Plateau north of Interstate 70 between Parachute and Rifle ignited a political firestorm this year after the BLM decided in late June to open the more than 50,000 acres atop the plateau to leasing.

Development advocate Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, praised the governor’s decision in a statement, calling it “a shot across the bow of those who have tried to make energy production a wedge campaign issue in Colorado.”

“When you strip away all the politics and all the partisan grandstanding that’s been going on in Washington, the governor finally came around to making the right call on the Roan and he deserves credit for it,” Penry said.

In response to Ritter’s letter, Wisely said she looks forward to working with Colorado to responsibly develop the Roan.

“I believe we can recover the area’s natural gas resources in an environmentally sensitive manner so as to meet the nation’s energy needs and generate revenue for the people of Colorado,” Wisely said.

Conservationists, however, said they were disappointed with the governor’s decision not to fight development atop the Roan.

Steve Craig, the president of the Colorado Council of Trout Unlimited, said the governor’s position did not go far enough in advocating against drilling atop the plateau.

“While we applaud the governor’s recommendation to expand the so-called ‘areas of critical environmental concern,’ ” Craig said, “we also see a missed opportunity to fully protect the fish and wildlife habitat on the Roan Plateau.”

Elise Jones, executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said she hopes Colorado’s congressional delegation will continue to fight to halt leasing activities atop the plateau.

Ritter’s opinion places him at odds with Democratic Colorado lawmakers Rep. John Salazar, Rep. Mark Udall and Sen. Ken Salazar, who have tried to halt Roan development at every turn.