DENVER — Federal land managers released a tentative plan Tuesday to protect most of the wild and energy-rich Roan Plateau in western Colorado, a step toward implementing a landmark compromise between conservationists and an energy company.
The deal allows limited drilling for natural gas on top of the 84-square-mile plateau, renowned for its forests, sage brush country, streams and wildlife.
The Bureau of Land Management drew up the proposal — called a supplemental environmental impact statement — after the compromise was reached a year ago between the conservation groups and Bill Barrett Corp., a Denver-based energy company that had leased federal land to drill for gas.
The agreement settled a 2008 lawsuit filed by 10 conservation groups that said the BLM's previous plan didn't do enough to protect environmentally sensitive areas.
In the settlement, Barrett Corp. gave up its right to drill on about 56 square miles in 17 parcels of federal land. Barrett could still drill on two other parcels of federal land covering seven square miles.
The amicable out-of-court agreement was so notable that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell flew to Denver for the announcement.
Barret Corp. didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the BLM's revised plan.
Mike Freeman, an attorney who represented the conservation groups in the lawsuit, said he was still reviewing the plan and called it encouraging.
"This does look like it's a big step toward protecting the Roan," he said.
The BLM proposal isn't expected to become final until the end of next year, after the public has a chance to comment and those remarks are analyzed and incorporated into the plan, if warranted.
About 90 percent of the plateau top would be off-limits to drilling under the compromise, Freeman said.
BLM Roan Plateau plan: http://tinyurl.com/o8eu2oj