Interior, Sen. Salazar Remain Far Apart on Roan Plateau Drilling Plan

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) continue to spar over plans to allow oil and gas drilling atop Colorado's Roan Plateau.

Salazar is seeking a moratorium on new leasing on the Roan Plateau until the state of Colorado has a "meaningful opportunity" to comment and various environmental concerns are addressed. To force Interior's hand, Salazar continues to block Senate consideration of Jim Caswell, the nominee for director of the Bureau of Land Management.

In a July 27 letter, Kempthorne said there would be additional opportunities for state and local input as BLM moves forward with Roan Plateau and oil shale development, but he declined to grant Salazar's specific requests.

"Given my experience and background in state and local government, as well as in the Senate, I am keenly aware of the need to solicit state and local input before making federal land-use decisions," Kempthorne wrote.

Salazar wants Interior to give Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) 120 days to review and comment on the Roan Plateau resource management plan that BLM approved in June and refrain from any new leasing on the Roan Plateau until the state works its process. In addition, Salazar wants Interior to consider extending the public comment period for the draft Oil Shale and Tar Sands programmatic environmental impact statement, because Colorado only had two weeks to review the draft document.

"These issues are of utmost importance to the future of Colorado, and I must insist on greater clarity with respect to how we move forward on the Roan Plateau and commercial oil shale development," Salazar told Kempthorne in a letter yesterday.

Caswell is currently the director of Idaho's Office of Species Conservation, a post he has held since Kempthorne created the job as Idaho governor in 2000. At a hearing last month, Caswell said he favors a multiple-use philosophy for BLM lands.

In the meantime, Sen. Salazar's brother, Rep. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), and Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) have inserted language in the House energy bill that would prohibit surface occupancy for exploration or development atop Roan Plateau. The provision would still allow BLM to receive royalty and bonus bids, but industry groups say the prohibition would reduce interest.

BLM's plan would allow up to 1,570 new natural gas wells atop Roan Plateau as early as next year. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association claims the plateau could hold 9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas -- enough to power 4 million homes for the next 20 years -- but environmentalists have attacked the concept.

Copyright 2007 E&E Daily. All Rights Reserved. Visit E&E Daily for a free trial.