Roan Plateau battle draws attention to Penry policy making

The New York Times featured a business section piece today on the battle here that pits Roan Plateau sporting and wildlife lovers against the Bill Barret Corporation, a Denver energy company that loves the natural gas reserves below the plateau.

It’s a story playing out now that asks questions about Bush Administration last-minute oil and gas giveaways, the fate of prized unique but not pristine or protected land across the country, the politics that landed the Roan gas leases in the hands of Bill Barret Corp and what they say about the policy priorities of gubernatorial candidate Josh Penry.

Video and excerpts after the jump.

Click on the photo to watch the Times piece on the battle for the Roan Plateau
Click on the photo to watch the Times piece on the battle for the Roan Plateau

New York Times:

A last-minute leasing push by the Bush administration put extensive federal lands in Utah and Colorado into the hands of oil and gas companies, including 36,000 acres of the Roan Plateau. The Obama administration has inherited the touchy question of what to do with those leases.

As one of his first decisions, Ken Salazar, the Coloradan who is President Obama’s interior secretary, scrapped a series of disputed leases in Utah. Last week, he announced that he would seek an investigation into other leases that granted favorable terms and low royalty rates for experimental projects to extract oil from shale.

But so far, Mr. Salazar has decided against canceling leases on the Roan, saying that he must uphold the buyers’ rights.

Sporting and environmental groups are suing the government in federal court, demanding that the leases be thrown out, and a preliminary ruling is expected this fall.

Opponents fear that development on top of the Roan Plateau will despoil it, leading to air and water pollution and disruption of wildlife.

In the Bush administration’s leasing program, those potential impacts were not taken fully into consideration, contends Michael Freeman, a lawyer with Earthjustice, which filed the suit calling for the cancellation of the Roan leases.

Mediation in the case is scheduled for Nov. 6. The groups suing the government are asking a judge to revoke the leases. That would not necessarily put the Roan off limits to future development, but it might require a fresh assessment of the environmental risks.

Colorado blogger Club Twitty adds to the discussion at Colorado Pols:

[T]he Bush administration was offering its final gifts to its oil and gas patrons, it leased offed every inch of public land in the Roan Plateau Planning Area for oil and gas drilling, in spite of have received over 15,000 protests on the lease sale (a record), and against overwhelming public and local community opposition.

Prior to the lease sale, parroting Greg Schnake, Sen. Penry predicted $2 billion in leasing revenue. The actual sale price was about 1/10th of that, for which Sen. Penry promptly blamed the local communities and conservationists that wanted these spectacular hunting, fishing, and recreation lands preserved for public, rather than industrial, use.

Ten sportsmen, hunting, and conservation groups filed suit claiming that the Bureau of Land Management had failed in its obligation to adequately analyze the impacts of its actions.

The BLM (under the Bush administration) considered the impacts of about 200 wells that it claimed was the reasonable amount of foreseeable development over the next twenty years.

Bill Barret Corporation, upon buying the leases from the venture capital firm Vantage Energy, immediately announced its intention to drill more than 3,000 wells in 20 years, more than 15X the numbers considered ‘reasonably foreseeable’ (upon which all its environmental analysis was based) by Bush’s BLM.

Having touted the BLM’s plan as “well-crafted” and “the strictest ever in terms of environmental protections” Sen. Penry and his oil and gas paymasters have been strangely silent since BBC’s intentions were made public.

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