The Roan lease price was high, but not high enough

 

The auctioning of the Roan Plateau's nearly 55,000 acres of gas leases netted a record $114 million last week, as the BLM put "the most biodiverse lands in Colorado" up for sale. The highest per-acre price was $11,800, for leases below the rim of the Roan; the average was about $2100 per acre. Unless a last-ditch lawsuit by conservation groups is successful, the sale will go through and the proceeds will be split between the state of Colorado and the federal government.

But groups on both sides of the Roan debate are unhappy about the results of the auction.

The pro-development group American for American Energy -- which had predicted the Roan would bring in $1 billion -- blamed the lower sale on "near constant political poison" of Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and other Democrats as they sought to temper the drilling of the Roan. Republican state senator Josh Penry cited "the specter of continued protests, continued litigation" and said "money was left on the table."

On the other side, The Wilderness Society's Pete Morton, an economist, said he and others estimate the recoverable natural gas in the Roan at about 5.5 trillion cubic feet, rather than the 9 trillion cubic feet cited by the BLM. Like Ritter, The Wilderness Society and other conservation groups promoted a phased development of the Roan, which they said would have  yielded more money as the value of gas increased with growing demand.

"Today is a sad day for Colorado," said Ritter last week. "It's a missed opportunity, one we don't get back, one that falls squarely on the shoulders of the Bush administration."

For more about the Roan Plateau, see HCN's slideshow, Roan on the auction block.