It is no secret that I dislike Craig Meis. His ties to the oil and gas industry are the motivating factor in most of the decisions he makes. However, I'm willing to acknowledge that he may have fallen for hype from an industry that spins facts to their own advantage.
Environmentally Conscious Consumers for Oil Shale (ECCOS), in conjunction with Club 20 and the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, recently hosted a media event where they announced that they supported the 2008 PEIS related to the leasing of oil shale units on public land, as did a majority of people who responded to an open comment period with the BLM.
Given that the comment period has expired and no decisions have yet been made about how to proceed, the timing of this media event raises some red flags. Other than attempting to get the public upset, I can see no purpose in talking about a process that is closed to comment.
What troubles me is that ECCOS is not a consumer group, at all. They are an invention of EIS Solutions, the consulting group that advocates for oil shale and advocated for the infamous horse racing video terminals and possibly turning the Mesa County Fairgrounds back into Uranium Downs.
Hometown hero Josh Penry is an employee of EIS Solutions, certainly because of his connections in the local community and because of his past position in Colorado's legislature. Penry, Meis and EIS Solutions are not leading a grassroots uprising clamoring for more commercial leases of oil shale. They are working on behalf of an industry that plays fast and loose with the facts.
Here are the facts. At the end of the Bush administration about 2,000,000 acres of land were designated as ready for commercial development in the states of Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. Several environmental groups sued because the BLM had not gone through the proper process of soliciting community input for the proposed leases. A judge in Denver ordered the BLM to open a new comment period that would allow for expert testimony regarding the viability of commercial leases, given the existing technology. Western Colorado Congress was one of the groups asking the BLM to consider the impacts on communities before rushing to commercial leasing.
The BLM offered four alternatives, one of which was to keep the 2008 Bush rulings in place. Others reduced the footprint of the land available for leasing and limited the leases to research and development of technologies that might maximize the value of the resource, and thus the ultimate return to the public of the royalties that are due to the actual owners of the resource.
According to the Checks and Balances Project, who conducted its own comprehensive review of stakeholder comments:
• 72 comments - or 51 percent - oppose the Bush oil shale plan;
• 52 comments - or 37 percent - support the Bush oil shale plan; and
• 77 comments - or 55 percent - support the BLM's approach, the BLM plan, a stronger conservation approach, or a "research and development" approach.
One can only conclude that EIS Solutions, by way of ECCOS is deliberately misinforming the public. At their media event they stated that a majority of respondents to the open comment period supported the Bush plan. In fact 37 percent supported that plan, which is hardly a majority. In fact, a strong majority supported a plan that allowed leasing for research and development while preserving the natural beauty of the land.
There is one other lie that ECCOS told. There is no technology today that is commercially viable. Estonia is often mentioned as a model, in part because they are consulting in Utah about shale formations that have very different characteristics than do the Colorado formations. In Estonia they dig the shale out of the ground and use it like coal; they burn the rock in power plants. This is a very inefficient way to use the resource, and leaves huge piles of tailings that are causing massive environmental damage in that country. Real damage could be done to a valuable resource if it is leased before the technologies are viable.
We should support research and development, but reject the spin of fake consumer groups.
Full Disclosure: Claudette Konola represents Western Colorado Congress of Mesa County on the board of Western Colorado Congress. She blogs at www.konola4colorado.com and can be reached at Colorful.Claudette@gmail.com.