Protecting the Crown Jewel, Ignoring...

November 16, 2007

Does focusing so intently on preserving the Roan Plateau obscure the fact that the entire region around the area is being sacrificed to oil and gas production?

Bob Elderkin of the Colorado Mule Deer Association and a former BLM oil and gas administrator, said, While everybody is keying on the Roan, they are missing the state.

All around the base of that plateau is the winter range for elk and deer and they are drilling on that winter range.

Most people on the Western Slope are concerned about drilling in the unmatched beauty of the public lands atop of the plateau.

A recent survey of 400 potential voters in the Third Congressional District indicated an overwhelming majority favored protecting native wildlife and unspoiled public lands on the Roan Plateau.

The poll, conducted by Anzolone Liszt Research of Washington D.C. for a number of conservation groups, indicated: Some 58 percent of registered Republicans said there should be no drilling or limiting that drilling to the base, and 78 percent of independents and 82 percent of Democrats felt the same.

Among hunters, 69 percent supported drilling restrictions, as did three-fourths of anglers, hikers and campers polled.

Rifle mayor Keith Lambers said, A protected Roan Plateau is important to the ongoing economic viability we have enjoyed through traditional historic uses on the plateau, including hunting, fishing and grazing. It's a small island in an overwhelming sea of energy extraction. Leave the island alone.

"The Roan Plateau is important to the region's wildlife and wildlife economy, " said Suzanne O'Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation.  "Hunting alone brings 1,500 hunters to the Roan Plateau and contributes million to the local economy each year.  We must gain protections for important wildlife areas.  It is critical that the BLM strike a balance between drilling and wildlife.  We're not there yet - and industry has no shortage of places left to drill.  What's the rush?"

The coalition of conservation groups released the polling numbers in response to a statewide survey conducted by the Denver Chamber of Commerce in which respondents were asked if they agreed that energy companies should be allowed to drill the Roan Plateau to reduce dependence on oil imports?

What they didn't take into account is there are no deposits of oil under the 3,000-foot high plateau.

It's inconceivable that a chamber of commerce located in an oil and gas city like Denver would mistake natural gas for oil it's apples and oranges, said Steve Smith of The Wilderness Society.

But the entire matter still may be a matter of the Emperor has no clothes Elderkin argues.

The real danger is to the Piceance Basin, Sand Wash and Vermillion Basin. That's the winter range for the elk and deer that wander up on the Roan in the summer.

Elderkin places the blame squarely on the shoulders of the BLM, saying it's running an interesting scam by leasing the lands, then shrugging it off as not being their problem.

They should be designating where drill pods go, he said. They just let drilling companies put in pipelines where ever they want.

We have a NEPA process to manage surface drilling but they are just blowing it off.

He said the people have a tendency to beat up the companies doing the drilling, but they can't be blamed because they are simply doing what they are being allowed to do.

The feds pass it off as a state Oil and Gas Commission responsibility, but it's not, it is theirs, he said from years of experience in the field.

What effect that gas production will have on wintering deer and elk is unknown, although common sense says the animals will have to move on as the density of wells increases.

The state Division of Wildlife is just starting to study the effect it will have on wildlife, Elderkin said. It's an million to million study that will take seven to eight years.

Where the money to fund it will come from, I don't know although we are making a contribution to it.

I can tell you, this. Hunting as we've known it simply won exist.

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