Bill would ban drilling on Roan

Leasing would be allowed, but without disturbing plateau’s surface

“It’s very significant,” Trout Unlimited spokesman Chris Hunt said. “It’s been a long, hard battle to have this in the bill.” Western Slope residents finally got what they asked for, he said, but there’s no guarantee the provision will survive the scrutiny of committee hearings and the Senate.

http://www.gjsentinel.com/news/content/news/stories/2007/08/01/8_1_1a_Roan_Plateau.html

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A new energy bill before Congress includes a provision banning energy development on public lands atop the Roan Plateau.

Reps. John Salazar and Mark Udall, both Colorado Democrats, added the provision Monday to the pending Energy Independence Act of 2007.

“We can still have the public lands leased, but the minerals can be accessed only from other locations,” Udall said Tuesday. “It means we’re not going to disturb those public lands on the surface of the plateau.”

Specifically, the provision would prohibit any “surface occupancy” for oil and gas exploration and development on the Roan Plateau, requiring energy companies to directionally drill from adjacent private land if they want to access the natural gas beneath the plateau.

That way, the Bureau of Land Management will receive the royalty and bonus bids from energy development and give industry the chance to exploit the Roan Plateau’s minerals, according to a Salazar news release.

Salazar spokesman Eric Wortman said the provision protecting the plateau breaks with the Bureau of Land Management’s definition of a “no surface occupancy” stipulation, which allows for pipelines to be built, but not natural gas well pads because the ground disturbance created by a well pad lasts more than two years.

The Roan Plateau plan approved by the BLM in June allows for areas under such stipulations to be disturbed by energy development as long as those areas are reclaimed and revegetated in less than two years. A well pad, according to the plan, would exist longer than two years and would be prohibited, unless the BLM grants an energy company an exception. A pipeline, however, is fair game.

“This is different than what’s in the original plan,” Wortman said. “If this passes the House and the Senate, they wouldn’t put anything on the surface of the public land.”

The public is being cheated by the congressmen’s efforts to prevent drilling rigs from marring the top of the Roan Plateau, said Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States.

“Don’t bother attending town hall meetings. Congressmen John Salazar and Mark Udall will tell you what’s best for your community,” he said. “It’s a shame after (Western Slope residents) would spend so many years of their lives engaged and working through these issues, at the 11th hour, Salazar and Udall would secretly insert into the bill a provision to essentially rewrite the plan.”

Smith said domestic energy production and consumers will suffer because of the congressmen’s meddling.

Environmentalists and sportsmen’s groups are hailing the provision.

“It’s very significant,” Trout Unlimited spokesman Chris Hunt said. “It’s been a long, hard battle to have this in the bill.”

Western Slope residents finally got what they asked for, he said, but there’s no guarantee the provision will survive the scrutiny of committee hearings and the Senate.

“It’s certainly going to take a positive vote from the House itself, as it looks like on Friday,” Udall said. “I’m optimistic that the provision will stay in the bill.”

Udall said in a news release he had his hand in other provisions of the bill that address water protection and oil shale.

The bill removes the 2005 Energy Policy Act-mandated deadline by which the BLM must issue an environmental review of the agency’s fledgling commercial oil shale and tar sands development program. It gives the BLM a year to create commercial oil shale leasing regulations after the environmental review is issued. The Energy Policy Act stipulates that the regulations be created in six months.

Udall said he also helped add a provision establishing a fund in the U.S. Treasury to help local governments pay for oil shale development’s effects on roads and other infrastructure. The fund would receive bonus bids offered for commercial oil shale leases and some of the royalties garnered from those leases.

Additional money would go directly to counties affected by oil shale development, including Rio Blanco, Mesa and Garfield counties, Udall said.

The bill also includes reclamation and water protection provisions requiring oil and gas producers to restore the land they develop so it will be able to support the types of uses the land saw before drilling rigs moved in. The producers would have to submit to the federal government a water management plan before they file for a drilling permit.

Energy producers who contaminate a water source would have to fix the problem or provide replacement water for water users.

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