The Roan Plateau Poker Game

Congressmen Mark Udall and John Salazar may have had to fold their hands over the Roan Plateau yesterday, but Senator Ken Salazar pulled an ace from his sleeve today saying he will up the ante to delay oil and gas leasing on the Roan Plateau.Salazar warned he would put a hold on the approval of the Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management until Salazar can get assurances that Governor Ritter and local governments will be able to take another look at the impacts of drilling atop the Roan Plateau near Rifle.

“There are some places that are too special to drill and the Roan Plateau is one of them,” Salazar noted. “I am hoping that we can find ways to drill with less land disturbance than what the BLM is proposing at this point.”

Earlier this month, the BLM decided to approve oil and gas drilling on 70% of the environmentally sensitive and unique wildlife and fish habitat Roan Plateau that rises 3,000 feet above the Colorado River floor west of Rifle. It will allow companies to disturb 350 acres at a time that has to be fully reclaimed before another section is drilled. However, the lifespan of drilling activity could happen for over 20 years and end up occupying over 50% of the land surface.

Salazar emphasized he was not opposed to oil and gas drilling. He supported opening the Gulf up to energy exploration. “I think we have to be very careful about the Roan Plateau and look at the long term sustainability without ruining our natural resources,” he said. “I am not going to allow Colorado to become a national sacrifice zone.”

Gov. Ritter had asked for a 120-day extension to comment on the BLM’s decision to drill and Salazar thought Kempthorne should had granted that request.

Salazar said another reason why he wanted to delay the approval of the new BLM director was to make sure that new person would have a collaborative relationship with Colorado. So far this week, Kempthorne has not returned Salazar’s calls to discuss the matter.

Yesterday, the Bush Administration stacked the deck with inflated costs to the government that helped prevent Udall/Salazar’s amendment from reaching the floor in Congress for a vote. Their proposal would have delayed drilling on the Roan Plateau.