RIFLE I Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on Friday joined Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to announce a landmark agreement that will help protect the Roan Plateau near Rifle while also encouraging natural gas development.
The settlement helps protect wildlife and supports opportunities for outdoor recreation and energy development, all of which play an important role in Colorado’s economy.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, local county commissioners, and representatives of the conservation and energy communities were also in attendance for the announcement.
The settlement agreement, reached with conservation groups and oil and gas leaseholders, cancels 17 of the 19 leases issued on the plateau in 2008 and refunds approximately $47.6 million in bonus bids and annual rental payments to the Bill Barrett Corp. The remaining two leases on top of the plateau and 12 leases located at the base of the plateau will remain in place.
“This is great news for the State of Colorado and for the local community who has worked hard to strike a balance between protecting open space and energy development,” said Secretary Jewell. “The Roan Plateau is an extraordinary place, and this settlement is a model for what can be accomplished when we all come to the table and work to find solutions.”
“We are thrilled to see resolution for this decade-long controversy over one of Colorado’s most special places,” said Hickenlooper. “This settlement will protect the valuable fish and wildlife resources atop the Roan Plateau while clearing the way for orderly development to take place elsewhere in the planning area. We applaud the parties for setting aside their differences and charting a productive path forward. It really is the Colorado way.”
“Coloradans understand that we have a special responsibility to protect places like the Roan Plateau for today’s recreationists, outdoorsmen and hunters and future generations. I am proud the U.S. Department of the Interior heeded my call — and that of a growing bipartisan coalition — to support an end to the longtime dispute over the future of the Roan Plateau,” said U.S. Senator Mark Udall. “This collaborative settlement is a Colorado-based solution. I have fought for a balanced solution to the Roan Plateau since my time in the U.S. House of Representatives, and this agreement underscores how Coloradans truly are rugged collaborators.”
“Our local communities and the leaseholders have worked out this compromise. They’ve agreed to it because it balances a variety of needs and interests by allowing for some development while also establishing crucial environmental and wildlife safeguards,” said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. “Secretary Jewell has recognized the significance of this locally-led agreement, and we’re thankful she has signed off on the settlement.”
“This agreement is the result of a diverse group of stakeholders joining together to find a solution to the long-running dispute that has prevented responsible energy production from moving forward on the Roan Plateau,” said U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton. “We worked to ensure that protections are in place to hold local communities harmless for any royalties that may need to be paid back. As a result, impacted communities including Garfield and Mesa Counties voiced their support and helped push the agreement across the finish line.”
The Roan Plateau is considered one of Colorado’s most ecologically diverse landscapes. It is a popular destination for hunting, fishing, and backcountry recreation. The dramatic topography of the plateau hosts an array of game and sensitive species. The landscape is known for its spectacular cliffs, waterfalls, and box canyons.
“After many years of discord and disagreement, this settlement represents a path forward for the people of Colorado, for the oil and gas industry, and for those that seek to protect critical wildlife habitat,” said BLM Director Neil Kornze. “A broad coalition of local, state, industry and conservation leaders came together to make this possible.”
In August 2008, BLM Colorado hosted a lease sale that included parcels located on the Roan Plateau based on a Record of Decision that was later challenged in U.S. District Court. In January 2013, the BLM announced it would prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Roan Plateau to address deficient environmental analysis in the 2008 decision. As part of this settlement agreement, the BLM has agreed to consider a “Settlement Alternative” to the ongoing SEIS that would make the lands covered by the canceled leases closed to new leasing while keeping open for exploration and development the lands covered by the retained leases.
“We are grateful for the efforts of the BLM and the support of our elected officials and our host community to see this agreement realized,” said Scot Woodall, CEO of Bill Barrett Corp. “The settlement ends a long period of uncertainty that has limited our ability to invest in development and to bring the Roan’s natural gas to market. We look forward to working with BLM as they complete the analysis necessary to start drilling.”
The settlement agreement was approved by the U.S. Department of Justice and can be found on the BLM website at www.blm.gov/co.