BOCC challenger criticizes oil shale stance
RIFLE, Colorado – Garfield County commissioners’ opposition to the Bureau of Land Management’s scaled-back plan for oil shale land leasing is misguided, says the challenger for western Garfield County’s commissioner seat.
Aleks Briedis, who is running against incumbent District 3 Commissioner Mike Samson in November, also takes exception to Samson’s claim that citizens on the west end of the county are more open to large-scale oil shale development.
“In reading the resolution, it sounds more like a political statement written by the oil shale industry, rather than something intended to help Garfield County residents,” Briedis said Tuesday of a joint resolution unanimously approved by the county commissioners on Monday.
The joint resolution supporting the BLM’s previous 2008 plan for oil shale and tar sands leasing was put forward by 13 affected counties in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah following a meeting among county officials in Vernal, Utah, last month.
“We need to make sure oil shale is developed properly and with environmental responsibility before we can move forward,” Briedis said in support of the new plan.
Briedis is the Democrats’ nominee to challenge Samson, a Republican, for the District 3 seat in this fall’s election.
Briedis said the biggest problem with the 2008 plan is that it does not require research and development before a company can apply for a commercial lease permit.
“That’s one of the reasons a lawsuit was brought forward in 2009 to have the BLM revisit the plan,” Briedis said in a press release sent out Tuesday in response to the county commissioners’ decision.
“The BLM’s preferred alternative in the 2012 [environmental impact statement] puts the burden of proof on industry to show the impacts of oil shale before leasing,” he said.
The joint resolution approved Monday endorses the “no action” alternative that’s included in the current BLM study.
It would essentially uphold the 2008 plan, opening up roughly 2 million acres of federal land in the tri-state region to potential leasing for oil shale and tar sands research and development. Included would be 346,000 acres in Colorado for oil shale leasing.
The BLM’s new preferred alternative would reduce the total amount of acreage available for leasing to 462,000, including about 35,000 acres in northwest Colorado.
The review of the 2008 plan resulted from a legal settlement between the BLM and 13 conservation groups that filed suit.
Before Monday’s decision, commissioners heard comments from about two dozen citizens, mostly opposed to the county’s resolution and supportive of the latest BLM alternative.
Most of those who commented at the Monday meeting were from Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.
“I believe I represent the majority of people within my district,” Samson said before voting in favor of the resolution. “We have a difference of mindset between the east and the west ends of the county.
“We need to pull together as a county and quit fighting about things, and use energy in a positive way to try to accomplish things,” he said.
But Briedis said residents in the western part of the county have similar concerns.
“If a night public meeting would have been set up in Rifle, he would have heard opposition to the resolution as presented,” Briedis said. “West Garfield County residents care about the environment. It is not an east versus west issue.”
Briedis noted that both the city of Rifle and town of Parachute have included proactive alternative energy initiatives in their city planning.
Rather than a joint resolution with the other counties, Briedis said Garfield County should work on a collaborative statement to the BLM plan that involves both industry and citizen input.
“As with any industry that uses our resources in return for product and profit, the relationship should be based on working with the industry, not for the industry,” Briedis said. “Garfield County commissioners should be representing Garfield County residents and not those of other states or the industry.”
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