County to fire off oil shale study critique |

County to fire off oil shale study critique

RIFLE, Colorado – Garfield County is prepared to take aim at the federal government’s latest plan for oil shale development in a joint position statement being put forward by several affected counties in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

County commissioners will consider the resolution at their regular meeting Monday in Glenwood Springs.

The resolution offers a highly critical response to the 2012 preferred alternative contained in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s environmental impact statement (EIS) on oil shale leasing in the tri-state region.

The county’s proposed position instead would support the 2008 decision, made in the waning days of the Bush administration, to open nearly 2 million acres of federal land to oil shale and tar sands development.

About 346,000 acres of the BLM oil shale lands proposed for leasing under the Bush plan are in northwest Colorado, including areas just north of Rifle and Parachute.

The new Obama administration-led BLM alternative would reduce the Colorado lands eligible for oil shale research and development to about 35,000 acres. That plan continues to be studied. A final decision is expected by year’s end.

Meanwhile, the Rifle City Council, which was leaning toward support for an alternative that included even less acreage for oil shale leasing than the BLM preference, has now postponed its decision.

“There was a difference of opinion on council,” city government affairs coordinator Mike Braaten said Thursday, reporting on discussion at the regular Wednesday city council meeting.

“They wanted to become more informed and hear interests on both sides of the issue before making a decision,” Braaten said. A special Rifle City Council meeting to hear that testimony has been set for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 25.

Several alternatives being studied by the BLM would authorize less leasing than the 2008 plan. The revised EIS was required in a legal settlement between the BLM and 13 environmental groups in 2009.

But the proposed multi-county joint resolution before Garfield County commissioners claims the Obama plan is in violation of the 2005 Energy Policy Act.

“The Department of Energy has basically abdicated the responsibility Congress placed upon it to defend and uphold a viable oil shale energy program in America, leaving it instead to the BLM encumbered by a host of anti-oil-shale, pro-wilderness groups steering BLM’s every move,” the joint resolution states.

The “friendly lawsuit settlement” also has resulted in a pre-determined outcome, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, according to the resolution.

In its support of greater oil shale development on federal lands, the resolution also asserts: “The rising price of gasoline, coupled with ever-increasing loss of good paying jobs due to the administration’s policies against energy development on western public lands, result in increasing hardships for families and the local economy.”

Garfield Commission Chairman John Martin said the resolution came out of a meeting in Vernal, Utah, last week between officials from the affected counties, including Garfield County.

“This is being put forward as part of the tri-state comment period provided in the EIS process,” Martin said. “It is the consensus of the affected counties in the three states.”

Officials from Mesa, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties were also involved in the Vernal meeting, he said. The Wyoming counties of Carbon, Sweetwater and Uinta, as well as Uintah County in Utah were also represented.

The meeting reportedly included former BLM Director Kathleen Clarke, who now heads efforts to encourage energy development on federal lands in Utah.

The joint resolution also asks that the BLM’s deadline for comments on the oil shale leasing plan be extended at least another 30 days until the middle of June.

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