Secretary Jewell, Gov. Hickenlooper, Colorado Congressional Delegation Announce Landmark Settlement for Colorado’s Roan Plateau


From the High Country News (Sarah Gilman):

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. Under its terms, 16 of the 18 leases issued on the top of the plateau will be canceled, effectively protecting about 90 percent of its 38,000 acres of federal land — and the bulk of the plateau’s sensitive resources — from future energy development. One lease will also be canceled at the plateau’s base. Companies will be able to persist with plans for the remaining 16,000 acres of leases there, albeit with provisions prohibiting surface disturbance on about half the area to protect wildlife. Bill Barrett Corp., which holds the cancelled leases, will receive a $47.6 million refund.

“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,” Scot Woodall, CEO of Bill Barrett Corporation, said in a statement. “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.”

Environmentalists, meanwhile, are lauding the agreement as a model that could be exported to other high conflict public lands, demonstrating the kind of effective compromise that could have staved off a lawsuit in the first place. The preemptive approach has been increasingly in vogue in recent years. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, for example, has struck compromise deals in northeastern Utah with Bill Barrett and another company called Anadarko, protecting wilderness-quality lands from development while allowing drilling to go forward unchallenged in other spots – an approach to avoiding future litigation that SUWA staffers say was enabled by its successful record of past litigation. The group has also been actively engaged in an effort led by Utah Rep. Rob Bishop to execute a similar compromise on a much broader swath of contentious public lands in the state.

But just as that issue has yet to be settled, the Roan conflagration could flare up yet again. While the BLM has agreed to analyze the settlement as one if its possible approaches to managing the area, that doesn’t mean the agency has to select it. And if it doesn’t, any of the litigants could pile back on. Still, EarthJustice attorney Mike Freeman is optimistic. “Given the broad support from both industry and conservationists, I have hope that the BLM will adopt it,” Freeman told me shortly after the settlement was announced. Now six years into representing environmental interests in the case, Freeman’s not sure what he’ll be tackling next. “I don’t doubt something will come along that demands our attention,” he says with a chuckle. “But I’m going to have a beer tonight first.” No word on whether he plans to do so in a hot shower.

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenloopers office:

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today joined Governor John Hickenlooper and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet to announce a landmark settlement agreement that will help protect the Roan Plateau near Rifle, Colorado, 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.

Local county commissioners and representatives of the conservation and energy communities were also in attendance for today’s 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 Corporation. 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. Senator 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 Congressman 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 Corporation. “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.”

“Conservationists, hunters, anglers and wildlife advocates welcome this settlement and the opportunity it provides to conserve an area rich in wildlife and unparalleled scenic vistas,” said Pete Maysmith, Executive Director, Conservation Colorado. “The Roan Plateau’s lush valleys and pristine waterways are important to herds of mule deer, elk and genetically pure Colorado River cut throat trout, significantly enhancing the regions outdoor recreational economy. This settlement helps us achieve the goal of preserving important natural areas like the Roan Plateau in Colorado while oil and gas development continues in Colorado and across the West.”

The settlement agreement was approved by the U.S. Department of Justice and can be found on the BLM website at: http://www.blm.gov/co.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Seventeen of 19 oil and gas leases owned by Bill Barrett Corp. on top of the Roan Plateau will be canceled and the company will be reimbursed about $47.6 million for the costs of acquiring and making annual rental payments on the canceled leases under a lawsuit settlement announced today.

The Bureau of Land Management also has agreed to pay $400,000 to settle all claims to attorney fees, expenses and costs by the conservation groups that brought the lawsuit.

Those are among the terms of a deal to resolve a lawsuit challenging the BLM’s management plan leading to the leasing of some 55,000 acres on and around the Roan Plateau west of Rifle in 2008.

Another notable part of the deal is that it doesn’t guarantee that the acreage where the leases were canceled will be off-limits to leasing in the future. Rather, the BLM simply has agreed to consider the settlement agreement as one alternative in an ongoing supplemental environmental impact statement re-evaluating its prior Roan Plateau plan due to a 2012 court ruling in the lawsuit. If the BLM chooses to lease the 17 canceled parcels, the conservation groups could sue again or otherwise challenge the decision.

The BLM has agreed to do its best to complete its new planning effort within two years.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Gov. John Hickenlooper and other officials were scheduled to announce the Roan settlement in a 1 p.m. press conference in Denver today.

“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,” Jewell said in an Interior Department news release. “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.”

Hickenlooper said in the same release, “We are thrilled to see resolution for this decade-long controversy over one of Colorado’s most special places. 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.”

The Roan Plateau rises from the Colorado River Valley to some 9,000 feet in elevation and is noted for its biodiversity. It provides important habitat to deer and elk, is home to rare plants and provides important habitat for native Colorado River cutthroat trout, which now occupies less than a tenth of its historic range. The settlement cancels all the leases in the Trapper and Northwater Creek watersheds, which conservationists say holds the best cutthroat trout habitat on the Roan.

Bill Barrett Corp. once had projected drilling more than 3,000 wells on its Roan leases.

“This settlement helps us achieve the goal of preserving important natural areas like the Roan Plateau in Colorado while oil and gas development continues in Colorado and across the West,” Pete Maysmith, executive director, of Conservation Colorado, said in today’s joint news release.

Said Scot Woodall, chief executive officer 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 contains restrictions on how Bill Barrett Corp. can develop its two remaining Roan Plateau leases, including limiting it to seven well pad locations altogether on the leases.

Twelve other Roan Plateau leases issued under the 2008 lease sale would remain in place under the settlement agreement. Those are owned by WPX Energy, Oxy USA and Ursa Resources. But the agreement requires that before drilling on those leases, the companies submit proposed master development plans, and include within them conditions to minimize impacts on wildlife and other resources, identified through consultation with the BLM and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The federal government shares about half of its oil and gas lease revenues with the state of Colorado, which will be responsible for reimbursing its portion of the revenues Bill Barrett Corp. will be receiving under the deal. That could occur by the federal government withholding future distributions to the state. Hickenlooper has promised to support state legislation that would ensure refunding the canceled leases has no financial impacts on local governments, with which the state shares federal lease revenues.

The state and local governments expect revenues associated with developing the remaining Roan Plateau leases will more than offset the costs of canceling the 17 leases.

The plateau-top leases initially were acquired by Vantage Energy for $57.6 million. In 2009, Bill Barrett Corp. obtained a 90 percent interest in those lease under a $60 million deal.

Altogether, the 2008 Roan lease sale netted $114 million, which for the BLM at that time was the largest ever in total dollars in the continental United States.

In 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Krieger ruled that the BLM failed to adequately consider keeping drilling off the plateau top by requiring use of directional drilling from surrounding lands, and failed to sufficiently consider air quality issues.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

The landmark deal protects most of the public lands on top of Roan from drilling, at least for the foreseeable future, while allowing development to continue on other leases in the area, including those at the base of the Roan.

The settlement was announced Friday afternoon at a joint press conference at the state Capitol called by Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

“This is great news for the state of Colorado and for the local community, who have worked hard to strike a balance between protecting open space and energy development,” Jewell said in a formal news release.

“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,” she said.

Hickenlooper reacted to the formal release of the settlement by the Bureau of Land Management, Bill Barrett Corp. and a coalition of environmental groups, saying, “We are thrilled to see resolution for this decade-long controversy over one of Colorado’s most special places.

“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,” the governor said.

More oil and gas coverage here.

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