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In the process of revising plans concerning oil and gas development on and around the Roan Plateau, the Bureau of Land Management could not determine consensus for addressing recreational target shooting at a popular location within the planning boundaries.
In its final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) and Proposed Plan Amendment release Tuesday, BLM laid out a plan in line with a 2014 settlement concerning oil and gas development on and around the Roan Plateau — a long-standing issue.
“The release of the Final EIS puts us one step closer to finally resolving the controversy surrounding the Roan Plateau,” BLM Director Neil Kornze said in a press release. “It implements the vision put forward in 2014 by a group of local, state and industry leaders, as well as sportsmen and conservationists, by protecting some of Colorado’s most important fish and wildlife habitat while also allowing for the responsible development of the oil and gas resources in the areas where it makes the most sense.”
However, since the settlement, the oil and gas issue has taken a back seat, at least at the local level, to concerns over user conflicts in Hubbard Mesa, a popular recreation spot north of Rifle.
Much of the debate has pitted recreationists fearing deadly consequences stemming from errant target shooting and other users fighting against limitations on recreation in the area — one historically frequented by target shooters.
The Roan SEIS presented an opportunity to make land use changes related to target shooting at Hubbard Mesa, David Boyd, public affairs specialist with the BLM’s Northwest Colorado District, said in an email. Those changes were dependent on broad consensus among stakeholders, which the BLM was unable to find.
“So we are not making any changes through this plan,” Boyd said. “We are continuing to work with stakeholders to find opportunities for education and better signage.”
Both the city of Rifle and Garfield County, which are cooperating agencies, submitted letters asking BLM to address recreational target shooting outside of the Roan planning process.
Representatives from the city, county and BLM met in early May for a site visit at Hubbard Mesa intended to gain a better geographic understanding of the area and start discussions on education and enforcement tactics dealing with errant target shooting and illegal dumping — the latter is an ongoing problem in the increasingly popular recreation area.
Shortly after, City Council hosted a debriefing for several members who were unable to attend the site visit. At the meeting, some councilors raised the idea of establishing a shooting facility in the area that could resemble one that Colorado Parks and Wildlife operates near Rifle Gap.
Since then, City Council has not publicly discussed the issue of user conflicts at Hubbard Mesa.
In a press release, BLM noted it received more than 50,000 comments while preparing the final SEIS. Most of those urged the agency to follow the 2014 settlement regarding oil and gas development.
Under the proposed plan, the 17 oil and gas leases canceled as part of the 2014 settlement would be closed to leasing. Two other leases on top of the plateau and 12 more below the rim will remain open to leasing and development subject to the terms and conditions of those leases and the new stipulations identified in the SEIS, according to BLM.
In prepared statements, representatives from energy groups as well as conservation efforts noted the lengthy process leading to Tuesday’s announcement.
“It certainly has been a long road to get to this point. It’s been nearly two decades since BLM transferred the Naval Oil Shale Reserves 1 and 3 to BLM for the express purpose of developing the natural gas resource,” Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs at Western Energy Alliance, said in a statement. “We’re just glad that this final EIS, which represents a compromise between the companies holding the leases, environmental groups, the state and federal government is done, and responsible development can move forward.”
David Ludlam, executive director of West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, offered similar remarks.
“Our distaste for the decision to lock away energy resources in the core of the Piceance Basin is offset by consolation that WSCOGA members retain at least some value from their $120 million … investment,” he said in an email. “Under the settlement alternative, leases formally held hostage at the base of the Roan Plateau will be deshackled and allowed re-entry into the nation’s energy portfolio in the coming years.”
Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, noted in a statement that Tuesday’s news was not the absolute end of the process — there will be a 30-day protest period and a governor’s consistency review period once the final SEIS is published July 1 — but shared his optimism regarding the development.
“We have pushed for protection of the Roan Plateau for more than 10 years, and, while we’re still reviewing the plan, today it appears that all that hard work and persistence is paying off,” he said. “This isn’t a final decision, but BLM looks poised to embrace a management plan that prioritizes conserving important natural values. That solution has been endorsed by conservation groups and industry alike. It’s too bad it took so much fighting to get here, but all that may have been worth it if the Roan is protected when a decision is released.”