There has been considerable debate about whether to allow natural gas drilling on BLM-administered public lands on the Roan Plateau near Rifle and if so what should be done with the revenues. As a likely candidate for Sensate District 8, I wanted to make my position known. I favor a balanced approach to developing the natural gas reserves under the Roan Plateau with a no surface disturbance stipulation for the remaining public lands. This position best balances the benefits of energy production with conservation of a special wildlife and recreation habitat. Any revenues from energy development must flow to the affected communities first to address the direct impacts of extraction and other consequences of the energy boom.
To help Routt County appreciate the Roan Plateau, try to imagine Emerald Mountain, only twice as tall and ten times as big, then you understand why the locals want it preserved for hunting, fishing and recreation. Already there are tens of thousands of gas wells planned in the area around the plateau, and the Roan Plateau will be an island of conserved land surrounded by gas production. The new directional (angled) drilling can allow the majority of natural gas to be recovered by drilling from adjacent land with today's technology. With patience and evolving technology, we can develop the Roan's energy reserves and protect the surface of the Roan Plateau.
"The plateau is home to the state's largest deer and elk herds, mountain lions, peregrine falcons, bears, rare plants and genetically pure native cutthroat trout dating to the last ice age. Local elected officials have said the Roan Plateau, which draws hunters and anglers from across the country, contributes millions of dollars to the area economy," said AP reporter Judith Kohler. A balanced approach means both mineral extraction and natural resource protection must occur. When the gas is gone in a generation, we must make sure that a sustainable economy remains. That means the Roan Plateau must remain intact to help ensure that our economically diverse and healthy communities prevail.
A proposal was made by several members of the GOP including Al White to take the Federal Mineral Lease revenues "windfall" and put them into higher education. I disagree; first Federal law says the Anvil Points Oil Shale Superfund cleanup must be completed before Colorado will receive any revenue. Then the revenue's highest priority must be to address the impact to the local communities that are being overwhelmed by the affects of the industry on their roads, hospitals, law enforcement, schools, housing and other critical infrastructure. More than a hundred million dollars of impact are currently unfunded.
If there are revenues left over, then a savings account for future generations must be established and funded with a dedicated source. This savings account for our children, and theirs, must be permanently protected from the State Legislature and only the interest used. In the next 30 years, Colorado must develop a legacy from our finite mineral resources for all future generations. Wyoming already has saved more than $3 billion, and New Mexico's permanent fund is nearly $5 billion while Colorado only has $223 million!
Energy development will continue in Northwest Colorado. We need a strong voice that will make sure the needs of the communities impacted by energy development will be the only priority until they are addressed. Energy development must not sacrifice public health, air and water quality, wildlife habitat or the landscape. Any excess revenues must establish a substantial permanent fund protected for future generations.
Ken Brenner is a former Steamboat Springs City Council president, former chairman of the Routt County Democratic Party and a likely candidate for state Senate District 8 in November's election. The district includes all or part of Routt, Moffat, Eagle, Garfield, Jackson and Rio Blanco counties. State Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, has announced his intention to run for the Senate seat.