DENVER (AP) — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced Friday that it will perform another environmental analysis of drilling on Colorado's Roan Plateau to look at a range of options, including a ban on oil and gas drilling directly atop the plateau.
The plan is a response to a ruling by a federal judge in June faulting the BLM for not following protocol when it approved drilling on the biologically rich plateau, which looms over the Colorado River.
The BLM said it will also look at requiring energy companies to access oil and gas under the surface of the plateau by drilling directionally into its sides, leaving the surface undisturbed, an option backed by communities in Garfield County. In her ruling last year, U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger said the BLM never stated that the option wasn't feasible in its 2007 plan allowing up to 1,570 wells over 20 years.
Other options include canceling existing leases or allowing them to continue without any changes, BLM spokesman David Boyd said.
"There's a full range of possible alternatives," he said.
The analysis will also consider the cumulative effects on air quality from drilling in the surrounding area, which Krieger said the BLM also failed to address the first time around.
It's not clear yet how the BLM's announcement will affect an appeal of Krieger's ruling pending in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Denver-based Bill Barrett Corp., which owns leases atop the plateau, filed the appeal. It has argued that requiring directional drilling is technically and economically infeasible, and requiring it would basically amount to invalidating its leases.
Bill Barrett spokesman Jim Felton declined to comment because of the litigation.
Environmentalists and conservation groups sued to block the leases that were granted at the end of the Bush administration.
Mike Freeman, an Earthjustice attorney who represented a coalition of those groups in the case, said they want the BLM to consider directional drilling. They maintain that 80 percent of the available gas could be accessed that way.
"The agency has a chance to get it right this time and really give the Roan the protection it deserves," Freeman said.
The plateau is home to some of the country's largest elk and deer herds, and genetically pure native cutthroat trout dating to the last ice age.
The 2008 auction of leases on the Roan generated nearly $114 million, which was a record for onshore energy lease sales in the Lower 48 states at the time.