Two Sides Of The Roan

Natural gas field on the Roan plateau surface. The private lands on the west side of the plateau are fragmented by heavy natural gas drilling.

I flew a LightHawk mission earlier this month to photograph the disparate halves of the Roan Plateau in northwest Colorado. From I-70 near Rifle, you can see the Roan Cliffs, but not the surface, so the aerial perspective is the only way to see what’s happening on top. The plateau surface is sagebrush and aspen forest, with deep canyons and several significant drainages that feed the Colorado River below. The Roan is renowned for large elk and mule deer herds and endangered Colorado River cutthroat trout. And while the eastern half is still wild BLM land, the west side is private land with heavy industrial-scale drilling, the single-use landscape that is so common in the West these days.

Drill pad and fracking pond on the Roan Plateau

The Roan is rich with oil shale and gas and was turned over to the BLM in the late ’90’s by the Naval Petroleum Reserves. Conservationists and sportsmen have long understood the special qualities of the Roan Plateau and have fought to keep the eastern side wild for over a decade. All of the litigating is done – the decision will be made in court. It was all leased for $141 million, with a plan to develop a ridge at a time for 40-50 years. Every well will receive something like 1,200 heavy truck trips, a constant procession of trucks and billowing dust. Air quality will suffer and water quality will be threatened by the carcinogen-laced fracking fluid that gets pumped 8,000 feet below the surface to release the gas – then back to the surface, where 40-50% is captured and stored in open pits. The plan to drill one ridge at a time and occupy 1% of the surface is certainly contemporary, but let’s not kid ourselves, the Roan will no longer be wild.

Industrial landscape along Piceance Creek at the base of the Roan Plateau

Spotlighting on the Roan Cliffs, still wild, but imminently threatened by full-scale drilling

Drill pad on cliff’s edge, Roan Plateau

Waterfall on East Fork of Parachute Creek

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