Colorado Roadless and So-Called Gap Leases Redux

As media stories come out about the final rule, the concept of Colorado Roadless increasing natural gas development in Colorado may well be stated again. As in Bob Berwyn’s piece here.

The state version of the rule leaves the door open for more coal mining, as well as natural gas development, both seen as critical to the state’s economy. Since the original national rule was first published in 2001, new energy leases have been issued on identified roadless areas, which is another irritation to conservation groups.

Here’s what happened. When the 2001 Rule was not in effect due to being enjoined by one court or another, leases went forward (as people can’t legally follow rules that are thought to be illegal by the courts; makes sense, no?). Now, there were different stages of time with different requirements in place. Nevertheless, lawyers I’ve spoken with who are familiar with this issue say that the the legality depends on the facts of each lease. So they were either issued legally or they weren’t. The key point is that whether it’s the Colorado Rule or the 2001 Rule, if they are legitimately issued allowing roads, they are; if they weren’t they weren’t. Now some people don’t like this and tried to use the “gap lease” issue to a) torpedo an independent Colorado Rule (in my view due to ideological attachment to the 2001) or b) to get the USG to buy back the leases (good investment in this economic climate? you decide) or c) simply to hold it out as a negotiating tool to get other concessions. I wonder if some groups selected this issue because it is so complex that they think people are more readily hornswoggled?

I think the correct thing is that both 2001 and Colorado don’t allow roads for new leases, and upper tier requires no surface occupancy (no roads, no wellpads). Which is actually more restrictive than 2001.

Anyway, for the curious, more on these leases here on this blog. I remember a discussion with Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice somewhere (High Country News? This blog? But can’t find it this morning..).

Here’s a link to a blog post I wrote in High Country News on roadless being possibly too complicated for newspapers and a dialogue with Pete Kolbenschlag on some related topics.

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