Judge calls ‘impasse’ in talks over lawsuit challenging Roan Plateau drilling

A U.S. district court judge this week ended a year of negotiations between 10 environmental groups and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and several oil and gas companies over a lawsuit seeking to overturn a record 2008 lease sale on the Roan Plateau.

Treasured by sportsmen, environmentalists and outdoor recreation enthusiasts, the Roan is a scenic plateau in gas-rich Garfield County that for years has been the subject of intense debate and litigation. Now the lawsuit challenging the record $114 million BLM lease sale in 2008 will be decided by a federal judge.

“After multiple rounds of settlement negotiations and diligent efforts by all parties, settlement negotiations are not at an impasse,” U.S. District Court Judge Kristen Mix wrote Wednesday. “Given that the issues in the case are fully briefed and ripe for resolution, the matter will be resolved in due course and in consideration of the District Judge’s overall docket.”

The 10 conservation groups – including the Colorado Environmental Coalition, Colorado Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, Colorado Mountain Club, Rock the Earth, Center for Native Ecosystems, the Wilderness Society, Wilderness Workshop and National Resources Defense Counsel – offered to continue negotiations but also promised to continue litigating to protect the Roan.

The groups, which contend the BLM did not fully analyze the potential impacts of drilling on the Roan, including considering a no-drilling alternative, called on the Obama administration to intervene and come up with a plan for drilling in the area that fully protects wildlife habitat.

“The drilling proposed for the Roan Plateau would devastate the elk, mule deer and native trout living there and deal a real blow to the region’s hunting and fishing economy,” Steve Torbit, Regional Executive Director of the National Wildlife Federation, said in a release. “As long as we protect wildlife habitat, western Colorado’s outdoors economy won’t have to suffer through the boom-and-bust cycles that the energy industry is infamous for.”

Four energy companies – Bill Barrett, Williams, OXY USA and Antero Resources – are named as defendant-intervenors in the case.

“The plaintiffs were holding the position the leases would be canceled,” Bill Barrett Vice President Duane Zavadil told the Denver Post. “We believed it was unlikely they would be canceled. The gap [in negotiations] remained too great.”

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