BLM releases draft PEIS for oil shale development

Phillip YatesPost Independent Staff

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – On May 2, 1982, about 2,200 workers lost their jobs when Exxon closed its oil shale operations near Parachute as the oil shale industry’s boom went bust.Now some in the area may be wondering if history will repeat itself after the Bureau of Land Management on Thursday released a draft Progammatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) about the future of oil shale development in the region.A proposal in the statement calls for the BLM to amend land use plans to designate 1.9 million acres of public lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming as an area for potential oil shale and tar sands development.Keith Lambert, mayor of Rifle, which was devastated by what became known as “Black Sunday,” said he didn’t expect a repeat of Black Sunday if a ramp-up of oil shale development happens in the area. Lambert said that in late 1970s the federal government was “pouring in money” to support oil shale development and when the government withdrew the funds to continue it, the energy companies didn’t pursue it any longer. Now, the companies are funding oil shale exploration with their own money, Lambert said.”The whole scheme of things is so different,” Lambert said of the difference between 1982 and 2007. “I guess I see a difference in that (the companies) are not going to move forward unless they have some technology that will bear them some reward at the end.”The impact statement released Thursday did not authorize any commercial development projects, allow any leases to be issued, or commit the BLM to any “particular course of action.” Legislation from 2005 declared oil shale and other unconventional fuels as “strategically important domestic energy resources that should be developed to reduce the nation’s growing dependence on imported oil,” according to the BLM. The BLM has said the potential oil resources within the Green River Formation are more than 50 times the United States’ current proven conventional oil reserves and about five times the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia. However, some critics have said oil shale is an inefficient resource to produce.”The lands we are proposing to make available are estimated to hold, at a minimum, the equivalent of 61 billion barrels of oil,” said BLM Director Jim Caswell. “At the low end of the range, that would yield enough gasoline to keep American tanks filled for 18 years.”Because of high oil prices and diminishing world supplies, some energy companies are looking to Shell, which is currently experimenting with oil shale extraction technology, to see whether the resource can be extracted in a way that makes economic sense and lessen America’s dependence on oil from the Mideast. Shell is studying the feasibility of extracting oil from shale by heating the shale underground and then pumping the oil to the surface. It hopes to create a frozen wall around areas of the so-called “in-situ” development to protect surrounding groundwater from being contaminated. oil shale: A3But in June, the company pulled a state permit application associated with one of three 160-acre oil shale research, development and demonstration leases it has been awarded on federal lands. Still, the company said it remained committed to trying to commercially develop oil shale in western Colorado.Critics say efforts to develop oil shale have been ongoing in some form for the last 100 years and that any drilling would have a dramatic effect on the environment, and on the state’s water supply and electricity demands. If the oil shale industry took off, full production could reach 2.5 million barrels per day. But it would require 1 to 3 barrels of water to produce each barrel. And some critics wonder if another Black Sunday may strike the area again.”Colorado’s economy suffered greatly in the 1980s from the collapse of a recklessly rushed federal oil shale program,” said Bill Grant with the Western Colorado Congress. “And yet the BLM is again proceeding with plans to approve a massive new program without even knowing what technology it will be based on.”Garfield County Commissioner Larry McCown, who came to the area in 1981 to help build the Unocal plant in Parachute, echoed Lambert’s comments, saying he didn’t think a ramp-up in oil shale development would lead to a repeat of Black Sunday.”I think with the proper planning you can avoid another situation like that,” McCown said. “The Black Sunday that everyone refers to, that was kind of anomaly. I don’t think you would expect that would happen again. Too much was learned by it the first time; there would be a lot of mitigation put in place. I don’t anticipate seeing something like that again.”Friday was the beginning of a 90-day public comment period on the BLM document. The compete draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) is available in electronic form at Written comments may be submitted on the website or sent to BLM Oil Shale and Tar Sands Resources Draft Programmatic EIS Comments, 9700 South Cass Ave., Argonne, IL 60439.Residents may also go to the BLM Glenwood Springs Field Office at 50629 Highway 6 in West Glenwood Springs to review the PEIS.Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117pyates@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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