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July 23, 2008

Elyssa Rosen 775-224-7497

New Report Finds Bush Administration Proposal Opens Colorado Roadless Areas to New Drilling

WASHINGTON A new report, "Leasing Colorado's Legacy: New Roadless Plan Opens Backcountry to Drilling," released today by the Pew Environment Group, finds that a proposed rule expected next week from the Bush administration would allow approximately 100 new oil and gas leases to be developed in Colorado national forests that are currently protected from drilling by federal rule. The administration's proposal comes on the heels of its recent controversial decision to drill in Colorado's Roan Plateau.

The rulemaking would repeal the popular Roadless Area Conservation Rule for Colorado's 4.4 million acres of undeveloped forests and replace it with a policy that would deny Colorado's national forests the same level of protection given to those in other states.

In order to be finalized before the end of the year, the rulemaking will be conducted with a condensed hearing and public comment period. Since 2001, the administration has attempted to undo the existing rule that protects more than 50 million acres of roadless forests nationwide, but it was rebuffed when a federal court upheld the policy in 2006.

Overall, the administration's proposal is expected to reflect most of the recommendations by a state task force endorsed by Colorado Governor Bill Ritter as an "insurance policy" to protect the forests from further legal challenges. However, in a little publicized loophole revealed in the Pew report, at least 97 gas leases approved by the Bush administrationóbut enjoined by the federal courtówould be allowed to move forward. The Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, where most of the new leases are located, are popular recreation areas and prime fish and wildlife habitat.

"This is a clear case of unintended consequences," said Jane Danowitz, senior officer with the Pew Environment Group and its U.S. public lands program director. "It's ironic that Governor Ritter's action taken nearly two years ago to protect Colorado's backcountry forests now could backfire. Colorado's national forests could end up as the country's least protected national forests and become a target for drilling and other development."

The amount of recoverable oil and gas from the new leases would be minuscule. According to recent analysis of federal government data by The Wilderness Society, economically recoverable gas in all of Colorado's roadless areas could only meet total U.S. natural gas consumption for a total of 10 to 17 days. Similarly, economically recoverable oil in the state's roadless areas would fuel less than 12 hours of total U.S. oil consumption.

"We hope Governor Ritter will call for a time out here and ask the administration to suspend this rulemaking until the full impact of these new oil and gas leases on valuable fish and wildlife and the state's economic future can be assessed," said Pete Kolbenschlag, Pew Environment Group's Colorado representative.

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