BLM plans for commercial oil shale leasing in West
Spurred by the 2005 Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Bureau of Land Management has announced it will begin preparation of a programmatic environmental impact statement covering commercial leasing of oil shale in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.The act requires the BLM to begin leasing oil shale tracts for commercial production by August 2007. Regulations governing commercial leasing of oil shale must be issued no later than six months after the EIS is published, said Sherri Thompson, EIS project manager. She said the agency hopes to complete the EIS in 18 months.The BLM will hold a series of public scoping meetings in the three states in January. A meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 18, at the Garfield County Fairgrounds, from 1-4 p.m. and 7-10 p.m.The BLM is also taking comments from the public and will accept written and electronic comments until Jan. 31, 2006. For information and to comment, go to ostseis.anl.gov.Other meetings will be held in Salt Lake City, Price and Vernal, Utah and Rock Springs and Cheyenne, Wyoming as well as Denver.Thompson said the BLM is aiming at publishing a draft EIS between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30, 2006. The EIS will be prepared by Argonne National Laboratory, a division of the Department of Energy in Argonne, Ill.”We’re looking at issuing a Record of Decision on July 31, 2007,” Thompson said. “The EIS will help inform us what needs to be in the regulations,” he said. They will likely be very similar to BLM regulations governing coal mining. However, some issues directly related to oil shale development will be addressed.”Right now multimineral leasing is an issue with BLM. Nahcolite (sodium bicarbonate) is interbedded with the oil shale,” Thompson said.Nahcolite is used in glass making and is the primary constituent of baking soda.”At least a few years ago in order produce oil shale you had to destroy Nahcolite,” which would not conform to the BLM’s mission to manage all economic resources on its lands, Thompson said.Protection of nahcolite could be addressed in oil shale leasing regulations or through a policy issued by the Secretary of the Interior, she said. The regulations will also set the size of the leases as well as the royalties from mineral extraction.In addition, the EIS will examine three oil shale extraction technologies: underground and surface mining as well as an experimental in-situ process that is being tested by Shell at its Mahogany Research Project in the Piceance Basin south of Meeker.In September, the BLM opened 160-acre leases in the Piceance Basin for oil shale research and development leasing with the aim of promoting projects by private companies to develop economically viable technology for removing oil from shale. Lease-holders have the option to designate an additional 5,120 acres, which the BLM will reserve as a preference right if the company’s oil shale extraction technology proves commercially viable.The BLM has also made provisions for including local governments and other interested groups as cooperating agencies in the planning process for the commercial oil shale leasing EIS, Thompson said.The BLM initiated the cooperating agency process during its resource management planning for the Roan Plateau this summer that involved state agencies and local governments from Garfield and Rio Blanco counties and municipalities. Thompson said up to 40 groups, including all counties and municipalities on the Western Slope, will receive a letter of invitation to the process next week.Unlike the Roan Plateau plan, where cooperating agencies were not included until after the draft EIS was published and the public comment period closed, cooperators are being included earlier on in the process, Thompson said.”It’s going be a balance to try and get everybody’s input and move forward at pretty quick pace,” she said, to complete the document in 18 months.
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