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Oil shale debate continues in Glenwood Springs

Phillip Yates
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The prospect of oil shale development was the focus of a debate during a meeting Thursday of the Bureau of Land Management’s Northwest Resource Advisory Council (RAC).

Much of the discussion among RAC members centered on whether to support possible oil shale development in the area and potential oil shale regulations before commercially proven oil shale extraction technologies have been implemented.

The 15 members of the Northwest RAC represent a broad range of interests, including environmental protection, energy and mineral interests, along with elected officials. The group advises the BLM on its policies.



Sherri Thompson, project manager for the BLM’s oil shale project, sketched out alternatives Thursday for possible oil shale leasing across Wyoming, Utah and Colorado. She said BLM’s plan is to select an alternative that could open the most areas for possible oil shale development.

Last month, the BLM issued its draft programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS), which has designated about 2 million acres in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming as possible areas for oil shale development.



Public comment on the PEIS is being accepted until March 20. A decision on the matter is expected this year.

Based in part on comments from cooperating agencies, which include Garfield County, the BLM determined that the PEIS would not be used to make leasing decisions, but rather to identify available lands that could be leased.

Clare Bastable, conservation director for the Colorado Mountain Club and a member of the RAC, asked Thompson about the power plants and large water consumption that would be needed to drive oil shale development in the area. Thompson conceded that water and power issues in connection with oil shale development still need to be addressed.

Proposed oil shale leases would last for an indeterminate amount of time, with adjustment at 20 years, said Charlie Beecham, branch chief for solid materials for the BLM.

The minimum lease size would be 5,760 acres and the maximum size would be 50,000 acres.

Some other steps in the leasing process would include consultations with state governors and an environmental review. The lease would go to the highest qualified bidder, who would pay for the lease’s environmental review.

A royalty rate for oil shale has not yet been determined, Beecham said. A draft of the regulations is expected in late spring.

Companies have been trying for years to develop an economically feasible way of extracting the vast oil shale reserves in several Western states. A renewed interest in the energy source has developed because of high oil prices and diminishing world supplies. Last year, the BLM issued three companies five 160-acre oil shale research, development and demonstration leases in northwest Colorado.

Joe Neuhof, West Slope field director for the Colorado Environmental Coalition, asked the RAC to push the BLM to extend the public comment period by 45 days. However, the group declined that request.

Neuhof said many people have been overwhelmed by the 1,400-page PEIS and need more time to understand the implications of the PEIS.

“There are a lot of people who are scared about oil shale because of the bust we saw in the early 1980s,” Neuhof said.

Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117

pyates@postindependent.com


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