Compromise on Colorado’s Roan Plateau

This web exclusive appeared on Nov. 22, 2014

The energy-rich Roan Plateau has been synonymous with the larger battle over oil and gas development on Colorado’s Western Slope for over a decade.

Rising 3,000 feet over small energy boomtowns with names like Rifle and Silt along the Colorado River, the former Naval Oil Shale Reserve hosts wilderness-quality roadless areas, a rare strain of native Colorado cutthroat trout, plants found nowhere else in the world, and crucial mule deer and elk habitat. It also happens to contain an estimated 8.9 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas; the Bureau of Land Management’s 2008 sale of mineral leases to companies hoping to tap those riches was the highest grossing in the Lower 48 in history, at $113.9 million.

As you might expect, throwing those volatile elements together has produced results akin to dropping a chunk of pure potassium directly into a glass of water (hint: KaBOOM).

Shortly before the lease sale, ten environmental groups filed suit over BLM’s management plan governing the area, and the energy companies holding the leases joined the agency against them as defendants. In 2012, a district judge sent the plan back to the BLM on the grounds that it had failed to adequately analyze more protective options as well as air quality impacts; both the energy companies and environmental groups appealed. The fight appeared as though it would only continue to escalate and even helped inspire a murder mystery novel whose hunting guide heroine prefers to end a long day by downing a cold beer in a hot shower.

But on Friday, November 21, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell took the podium at the state capital building to announce that the parties involved had reached a landmark settlement that seems to make everyone happy. More…