Briedis: BLM plan for oil shale well-reasoned
RIFLE, Colorado – The Democratic challenger for the Rifle-area Garfield County commissioners seat says he applauds the commissioners’ decision this week to rescind a controversial resolution opposing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s latest plan for oil shale leasing on public lands in northwest Colorado.
But Aleks Briedis said the issue is more about the commissioners’ continued objection to the agency’s position, not that the resolution came out of a questionable out-of-state meeting attended by energy company representatives.
“Their ongoing opposition to the BLM’s proposal to require energy firms prove that they can develop oil shale without destroying our environment does not represent the views of the majority of Garfield County residents,” Briedis said following the commissioners’ Sept. 4 decision.
“The people I’ve been talking with in Rifle, Glenwood Springs and other communities understand the need for balanced policies that protect our water and air, as well as industries like agriculture and tourism,” he said.
Briedis, who is the parks and recreation director for the city of Rifle, will face incumbent Republican Commissioner Mike Samson of Rifle in the Nov. 6 election, one of two county commissioner races in this fall’s election.
In the other race, incumbent John Martin, a Republican, faces Democrat Sonja Linman. Both are from Glenwood Springs.
The decision to withdraw the resolution, in which the commissioners opposed the BLM’s plan to sharply reduce the amount of acreage available for leasing, came after they acknowledged that legal notice of a March 29 meeting in Vernal, Utah, where the resolution was drafted was inadequate.
Two citizens groups filed a lawsuit late last month challenging the legality of the meeting and participation by industry officials, and asking a judge to nullify the commissioners’ passage of the resolution.
County commissioners from several Colorado, Utah and Wyoming counties were also at the meeting, which was hosted by the Uintah County, Utah, commissioners. Several other counties passed similar versions of the same resolution.
“It’s puzzling that the commissioners would meet behind closed doors with fossil fuel companies to craft a resolution opposing a common-sense policy that requires oil shale developers to prove absolutely they have a commercially viable and environmentally sensitive plan for doing business in our backcountry,” Briedis said.
It was Commissioner Samson who asked that the matter be revisited in light of the lawsuit. He said the commissioners all went to the Vernal meeting with good intentions, and that there was no “underhandedness” in doing so.
Samson said he hoped to have the lawsuit dropped by taking the action ahead of a judge’s ruling. He also acknowledged there are “legitimate points” on both sides of the oil shale issue that need to be discussed.
At the April 9, 2012, Board of County Commissioners meeting where the resolution was passed after more than three hours of public testimony, Samson said he believes western Garfield County residents understand and support efforts to advance oil shale development.
“I believe I represent the majority of the people in my district on this issue,” he said at the time. “We do need to take the time and research things. But we’re all in this together, and we’ve got to work together for the benefit of Garfield County.”
It was also at Samson’s urging that several revisions were made to a draft version of the resolution, especially as they relate to the potential that oil shale development could use vast amounts of water.
“If it were up to me, we are not going to use extravagant amounts of water to develop oil shale,” Samson said at the time. “I have a real problem with that.”
Briedis agreed that water is a major concern when it comes to oil shale development.
“The thought of diverting vast amounts of water to develop oil shale, and the pollution it will produce, is cause for concern for all our communities in Garfield County,” Briedis said.
The county’s resolution sounded more like a political statement “written by the oil shale industry,” rather than being aimed at protecting the interests of Garfield County residents, Briedis said.
He said a position similar to one taken by the Rifle City Council simply asking the BLM and industry to consider the health and welfare of local citizens, as well as the economic and environmental impacts, would have been more appropriate for the county commissioners.
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