Conservationists Celebrate Victory Over Bush-Era Drilling Plan
Last week, the Sierra Club and other conservation groups celebrated a victory over the natural gas industry and the preservation of one of America's richest environmental and wildlife treasures. The Roan Plateau, a hidden gem of biodiversity in western Colorado, happens to sit on a bed of natural gas, putting it in the cross-hairs of the oil and gas industry for several years.
Under the Bush administration and just before President Obama's inauguration, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) put extensive federal lands in Utah and Colorado into the hands of oil and gas companies, including 50,000 acres of the plateau outside Rifle, Colorado.
That was until last Friday, when a federal judge found fault with BLM's planning and analysis. It failed to consider significant environmental impacts of drilling on the rugged terrain that's home to clear streams, genetically-pure and endangered Colorado Cutthroat Trout, herds of deer and elk, several threatened and endangered species, and a plethora of other important biodiversity. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported:
In a 38-page ruling in a lawsuit by conservation groups, U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Krieger ruled that the agency failed to adequately address an alternative that would have kept drilling off the plateau top by making use of directional drilling from surrounding lands. It also failed to sufficiently consider cumulative air quality impacts in conjunction with anticipated development in the region, or to adequately address ozone impacts.
Judge Krieger's decision gives the BLM time to research the environmental impacts of drilling the Roan and re-examine alternative approaches that didn't get sufficient consideration the first time around.
Further, the decision reveals that unprotected, but critically important American lands like the Roan Plateau should be spared from drilling for natural gas. And as the Denver Westword blogged recently, "the Roan is certainly the kind of place that deserves a second look, and a third, before you mess with it."
Fracking for natural gas is known to contaminate drinking water, pollute the air, damage and poison landscapes and soil, and cause minor earthquakes. If drillers can't extract natural gas without destroying landscapes and endangering the health of families, then we should take heed of Judge Krieger's conclusion and not drill for natural gas on one of Colorado's great natural treasures, the Roan Plateau.
- Eric Huber, Sierra Club Senior Managing Attorney in Boulder, Colorado. Photo of the Roan Plateau courtesy of the Department of the Interior.