The Roan Plateau sits above one of the largest untapped gas-fields in the lower 48 states, and contains sufficient gas to heat 4 million homes for the next 20 years. In opposition to the wishes of conservationists, anglers, hunters and local governments, the federal government has opened the floodgates for drilling to begin there as early as next year, such is the enthusiasm to tap this new source of fossil fuel. In making its decision, The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has cleared the way for access to around 70% of the 73,602 acres of the Roan, while the other 30% is being evaluated during a public comment phase, and a final decision will be made in the Autumn which is highly significant since it includes numerous areas of outstanding natural beauty and wildlife habitats.
The BLM decision was made last Friday and allows oil and gas corporations to drill on top of the plateau, so long as they employ state of the art directional drilling methods, in order to restrict surface damage and conserve fish and wildlife habitats. Only 350 acres are permitted to be "disturbed" at any given time, and when the job is done, companies are obligated to reclaim the plot (restore it to its former appearance) before they can drill elsewhere. It is probable that the BLM will begin auctioning specific plots next year, which are now being chosen by the various competing concerns.
Those in favour of the scheme argue that it can only be for the greater good of Colorado which could both benefit from its access to a significant gas supply during a period of hiked-up fuel prices and collect hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue from the oil and gas companies themselves. The general feeling among those opposed to the project is that it has been forced-through, with scant regard to the real environmental and ecological upheaval that it will engender, and Suzanne Jones of the Wilderness Society said: "We are extremely disappointed. We don't think BLM's decision reflects what Colorado and a majority of local governments have been asking for, which is to protect the top of the Roan Plateau. We are disappointed that the BLM didn't allow Governor Ritter's administration to review the plan before it was issued."
"BLM opens gates for drilling on Roan Plateau," by Gargi Chakrabarty, Rocky Mountain News: