New Western Colorado Congress oil shale, citizens group coordinator likely to stay busy |

New Western Colorado Congress oil shale, citizens group coordinator likely to stay busy

Phillip Yates
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Frank Smith

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” If there’s a meeting about oil shale, expect to see Frank Smith there.

And with the pace that oil shale drilling developments are occurring on the Western Slope, expect Smith to be at a lot of meetings.

But that’s the requirement of his job as the new oil shale and Grand Valley Citizens Alliance (GVCA) organizer for the Western Colorado Congress (WCC), an advocacy organization that supports environmental stewardship. His duties include helping coordinate a regional effort to prevent oil shale leasing in the area and organizing the GVCA, one of eight community groups that make up the WCC.

The organization needed to fill the position after Patrick Barker, who previously held the position, left the WCC in early December for a job at a local law firm. Smith started his new gig Feb. 1.

One of Smith’s first tasks is to assist an effort with other groups to ask the Bureau of Land Management to extend a public comment period on its recent draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which could possibly designate almost 360,000 acres of land in Colorado open to oil shale development.

The deadline for public comment is March 20. But Smith and other groups have been circulating a letter among the area’s mayors to see if they will request that the deadline for public comment be pushed back by 45 days so area residents to absorb everything in the 1,400 page document.

“So far the reception of those mayors has been pretty good,” said Smith, adding a formal request on the extension has not yet been submitted to the BLM.

Smith is joining the WCC at a time when oil shale development on the Western Slope seems poised to be making a comeback in the area. Besides the BLM’s PEIS, companies have been making several oil shale related deals in the last two months. Recently, Raytheon announced in January that it was selling oil shale extraction technology to Schlumberger, a global oil field services provider.

The key behind the new technique is microwaves, which would generate underground heat and potentially release petroleum from the rock formations. Raytheon, a major defense contractor, developed the technique with CF Technologies, based in Hyde Park, Mass.

Oil shale could provide several hundred years of energy “right here within our borders,” said Greg Schnacke, president and CEO of Americans for American Energy, a Golden-based energy-education organization. The BLM has said that that oil shale reserves in the Western United States are more than 50 times the nation’s current proven conventional oil reserves and about five times the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia.

“From our perspective it is something that, from an American energy security standpoint, you just can’t ignore,” Schnacke said.

While Schnacke said technologies to commercially extract the technology aren’t readily apparent, companies still need “some regulatory certainty that government has an eye toward” making oil shale drilling a possibility.

However, Smith, the WCC and other groups have argued that the BLM should not go forward with a decision on designating lands open to oil shale drilling until proven technology exists. The BLM’s decision on the matter is expected this year.

Large concerns Smith and the WCC have about oil shale development are the potential impacts on the area’s water and air.

Another fear is a possible reprise of “Black Sunday” ” a day when thousands of people lost their jobs when the Exxon oil shale facility shut down. It is an event that sent the area’s economy into a tailspin.

Smith also said the WCC and the GVCA are also worried about the area’s quality of life “being drastically reduced by oil shale and at least the possibility of it being ramped up.”

“When you read the (BLM’s) proposed potential impacts it would make the current activities associated with natural gas seem like child’s play,” Smith said. “They are talking about basically having Garfield and Rio Blanco counties be a sacrifice zone for the whole nation. And for what? For the possibility of reducing our foreign dependence on oil.”

Smith said one of his goals for his new position is to build connections with local residents of the area that would be impacted by oil shale development and build his knowledge of other groups who are working on similar issues in the area.

“I would also like go back to the tourist side of me and want to visit and experience all of these special places that are on the Western Slope,” Smith said.

Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117

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