Pitkin County urges restraint on BLM oil shale, tar sands leasing
The Aspen Times
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Pitkin County will urge the Bureau of Land Management to take a conservative approach to leasing federal lands in western Colorado for oil shale development, limiting activities to research and development in areas where those efforts are under way.
County commissioners on Tuesday endorsed comments on a draft Environmental Impact Statement issued by the BLM for oil shale and tar sands development in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The county is limiting its input to what could occur in Colorado – the leasing of lands for oil shale research and development, or commercial production, in the Piceance Basin outside of Grand Junction. The comments are due May 4.
The BLM has identified four development alternatives, including one preferred by the agency. Commissioners favored an alternative that is more restrictive than the BLM’s preferred option.
Commissioners agreed to endorse Alternative 3, which limits leasing to 26,880 acres at most in Colorado, and involves only public lands on which five research and development leases exist and another one is pending. More information is necessary on the technological requirements and impacts of extracting oil from shale before more public lands are committed to commercial oil shale development, their letter states.
“Alternative 3 will help ensure that commercial development will not be initiated until a full understanding and evaluation of impacts is completed to a specific standard,” the letter reads.
The BLM’s preferred alternative also limits the leasing of land to the purpose of research and development, but could result in making up to 35,308 acres of land available in Colorado. A commercial lease could only be issued when the conditions of the research lease and regulations for conversion to a commercial use are satisfied.
Commissioner Michael Owsley voiced opposition to the roughly 10,000 additional acres made available for leasing in the BLM’s preferred option.
“They have not found an economical way to extract any kind of fuel from oil shale,” he said. “Adding another 10,000 acres to that gamble on the part of petroleum companies doesn’t seem to make sense at this time.”
“I agree with the philosophy that we should start small,” said Commissioner Rob Ittner, though he also questioned whether the county’s stand is always to call for the most restrictive possible approach.
“Is our philosophy the least amount of acreage, no matter where it is in the world? Because we live on fossil fuels,” he said.
“If this is a successful process … an awful lot more of this Piceance Basin area is going to be [leased],” responded Commissioner Rachel Richards.
Richards questioned the ability to offset the carbon that would be released from burning what she said is an estimated trillion gallons of oil that shale could produce.
“We might mitigate all of the impacts on the ground, but I don’t think we’re going to mitigate the impacts in the air,” she said.
The county’s letter urges the BLM to ensure various impacts from oil shale activities are evaluated, including what oil shale production will do to water quality and quantity, wildlife, air quality, overall human health and tourism-dependent economies.
The BLM should weigh the amount of energy spent in oil shale production with the amount produced and consider whether it’s worth the overall impact to public health and public lands, according to the county’s letter. Finally, the county calls for tying the use of public lands for fossil-fuel production to measures that conserve fuel consumption. Oil shale development, if it is viable, should be part of an economy that also incorporates renewable energy resources, the letter states.
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