Roan Plateau

WW advocates for keeping the top of the plateau free of oil and gas development
Roan Plateau

The Roan Plateau towers 3,000 feet above the Colorado River Valley. Photo courtesy Bruce Gordon/EcoFlight.

WW is part of a coalition of conservation groups seeking to prevent oil and gas drilling on top of the Roan Plateau north of Rifle.

The coalition, led by Conservation Colorado, sued to block a 2008 BLM decision to lease 55,000 acres on top of the plateau to four oil and gas companies. In July 2012 a federal judge set aside that plan and sent the BLM back to the drawing board, confirming what we had been saying all along – that the agency didn’t do a good job analyzing the potential impacts of oil and gas development on the Roan Plateau.

In January 2013 the BLM initiated a new environmental analysis of drilling on the plateau. The main leaseholder in the planning area, Bill Barrett Corp., challenged the new process with a lawsuit, which ultimately ended, in November 2014, in a legal settlement that could potentially save 90 percent of the top of the plateau from drilling (see sidebar).

In comments on the BLM’s analysis, the conservation groups called for canceling the leases, forbidding drilling on the surface in any future leases, and a thorough analysis of air quality impacts of any development that the BLM authorizes. Our comments helped set the tone for the “settlement alternative” that is now to be considered as a result of the settlement.

Rising 3,000 feet above the Colorado River Valley, the Roan Plateau is a visually stunning, undeveloped island of public land surrounded by intense gas drilling activity. It has been found to be one of the three most biologically diverse places in Western Colorado, featuring some of the most genetically pure native trout in the nation and numerous rare plants, including the rare Parachute penstemon. The BLM has identified four critical areas on the Roan for eligible for protection as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, totaling over 36,000 acres. East Fork Falls, one of the tallest and most spectacular waterfalls in Colorado at 200 feet, lies hidden in a dramatic canyon nicknamed “Colorado’s Little Yosemite.”

The Roan Plateau provides critical habitat for one of the largest mule deer herds in Colorado. Most of this herd’s habitat has already been leased for energy development, making the few remaining areas of critical range – like that at the Roan Plateau – all the more valuable to our state’s wildlife. Hunting on the Roan Plateau brings 1,500 hunters and results in almost $5 million for the local economy annually.

Furthermore, local communities support keeping the top of the plateau free of drilling. During the planning process, hundreds regularly turned out at meetings and other events to demonstrate strong support for the Roan’s protection. By the time the comment period closed on the draft plan, almost 75,000 comments had been received with more than 98 percent of those opposed to drilling on the Roan Plateau.