A slower, measured approach to oil shale is the better choice
Contrary to the hard line position being put forth in a joint resolution by Garfield County commissioners and several other counties in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, we believe the current BLM review of the federal oil shale leasing program is on the right track.The technology necessary to produce oil from the vast shale rock deposits in the region clearly remains in the preliminary research stage. We’re still a long way from determining if commercial-scale production will be viable.After nearly a century of trying, even proponents in the industry readily admit it’s a prospect that lies sometime in the distant future. Whether oil shale can ever be developed without severe negative environmental impacts, and without the damaging boom-and-bust economic cycle that has accompanied efforts in the past, remains a big question.These and other critical questions still need to be answered. We see a rationale for some degree of public lands leasing for oil shale and tar sands research remaining as a part of national energy policy.But it makes no sense to open up vast amounts of public lands for potential commercial-scale development without a deliberate, measured approach to ensure the necessary research is done first.A major problem with the BLM’s 2008 plan, endorsed recently by the county governments in their joint resolution, is that it did not require research and development before energy companies could proceed to commercial development. It’s one of the main reasons conservation groups filed a lawsuit to halt that plan, and why the federal government is now taking a closer look at its oil shale leasing policy.Without a sound R&D program first, it only opens the door to yet another misguided, full-speed-ahead approach to oil shale development. It’s an approach that bit us hard 30 years ago, on May 2, 1982, when Exxon pulled out of its oil shale operations in Garfield County, sending the regional economy into a decade-long tailspin.The 2008 plan would open about 2 million acres of BLM land for oil shale leasing, whereas the BLM’s current preferred alternative designates 462,000 acres for that purpose, including more than 35,000 acres in northwest Colorado.Tonight, the Rifle City Council will consider its position on the BLM oil shale environmental impact statement during a joint meeting with the Garfield County commissioners.In earlier discussions, the Rifle council had been leaning toward one of the smaller-acreage alternatives being considered by the BLM. No doubt, the commissioners will try to persuade the Rifle council otherwise.We encourage the Rifle city leaders to stick to their gut instincts and endorse one of the better-thought-out alternatives now on the table. Oil shale has a long way to go to become a viable alternative to fulfill our domestic energy needs.BLM is right in taking a cautious approach with its scaled-back alternatives, and we urge Rifle to endorse that approach.
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