But do they really disagree that much on the future of the Roan?
Earlier this year Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) proposed allowing drilling on top of the Roan and around its base under incremental, phased leasing that would parcel out one plot for development at a time. The BLM rejected Ritter's proposal in the spring, instead going with an all-out lease with staggered drilling plans for the top of the plateau and less land set aside for special protection. Udall and other Democrats in Colorado's congressional delegation proceeded to sponsor legislation similar to Ritter's plan. Udall had also previously proposed a greater reliance on directional drilling, which limits the number of well pads that would dot portions of the Roan's landscape. Neither of these measures passed.
Over protests from conservation and citizen groups, on August 14 the BLM auctioned off energy leases for all of the remaining public land on the Roan encompassing 54,631 acres (221 square kilometers). The BLM estimates that some 8.9 trillion cubic feet (252 billion cubic meters) of natural gas lies under the Roan's rocks, or approximately enough to heat four million homes for 20 years.
The final management plan contains some innovative environmental conservation measures, like spacing the gas wells at least a half mile (0.8 kilometer) apart and limiting production to just one percent of the plateau's environmentally sensitive surface at a time. "Some of these things haven't been tried anywhere else," Boyd says.
But Jim Angell, lead attorney for the Oakland, Calif.–based public interest law firm Earthjustice, which represents a host of environmental groups suing the BLM, says this 1 percent stipulation is "an accounting trick. Once the land is under production, it will be for decades."
Democrat Tresi Houpt, one of three commissioners for Garfield County, which contains most of the Roan, is also skeptical that the landscape and wildlife will be adequately protected. "The Roan is one of our special places in Garfield County," she says. "I think people are stunned" that drilling will be allowed.
In televised debates and through spokespeople, the candidates have consistently sniped at each other's vision for the Roan. Udall states on his Web site that he has fought the Bush administration's efforts to open up the Roan for drilling "because not every place that can support oil [and natural gas] drilling should be drilled in my view," the candidate says.
Schaffer says that the Roan is a "tremendous asset and opportunity for Colorado" and that he supports developing the plateau in a "responsible, environmentally conscious and friendly way" to access all its "clean-burning natural gas." He upbraids Udall and others for "delaying" drilling on the Roan and that Colorado should "move faster" on energy production.
Political scientist John Straayer of Colorado State University (C.S.U.) in Fort Collins says that "neither [has taken] an extreme position as they both know that such a position is political poison."
Still, Dick Wadhams, Schaffer's campaign manager, says their differences are stark: "Schaffer wants to develop the Roan's resources and Udall does not—that's really the essential difference between these candidates."
But that difference is not all that clear. Schaffer and Udall actually agreed to Ritter's proposal in principle, with Schaffer announcing his support in March. The Denver Post expressed surprise at the agreement, noting that each campaign still sought to smear the other candidate as a flip-flopper for arriving at the agreement. Such a back-and-forth broke out in a subsequent debate.