Sen. Salazar supports oil shale bill |

Sen. Salazar supports oil shale bill

Phillip Yates
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., said Wednesday that he supports oil shale language in an energy bill approved by the U.S. House this week that gives states the chance to “opt-in” to oil shale development.

However, that bill also includes language that would lift a ban that has blocked the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from issuing final commercial oil shale regulations. Salazar previously said he would fight to keep the ban ” which is slated to end at the end of September ” in place. It was a position that resulted in significant Republican criticism for Salazar.

Salazar said his support for the House bill’s oil shale package comes from language that would give power to the state legislature and the governor’s office to decide if any commercial oil shale leasing can go forward in the state.

“In effect, it allows us in the state of Colorado to control our own destiny,” Salazar said. “At the end of the day, the people of the state of Colorado are the ones who ultimately will derive both the benefits and the detriments of oil shale development. So having the governor and members of the General Assembly making that decision, I think is a correct one and one I support.”

Salazar said his staff was looking to see if that legislation may affect the six oil shale research and development leases in Colorado and Utah, and whether the bill would block those leases from expanding. He added that there are several key unanswered questions that surround oil shale development, like how much water and energy would be needed to drive extraction of the resource.

“Those questions remain out there,” he said. “I don’t believe that within Colorado the federal government should rush head long into a full-scale oil shale development program.”

Steve Wymer, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said Salazar “appears to be following the lead of ‘U-Turn Udall’ and flip-flopping on energy policy like a cutthroat trout.”

“These desperate swings toward ‘pro-energy’ positions don’t change the reality that Senator Salazar continues to be the single biggest obstructionist in the Senate regarding responsible oil shale development,” Wymer said. “Nobody is suggesting it is reasonable that we can develop oil shale resources immediately. All we need to do is get started developing the regulations that will help us begin with this process.”

Any bill that might include oil shale provisions comes at a time when the BLM is set to issue a record of decision later this year that would open up about 360,000 acres in northwest Colorado to possible oil shale development. A RAND report from 2005 said there may be about 1 trillion barrels of oil in the Piceance Basin ” which stretches across Mesa, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.

While the future of the oil shale has fast become a topic for national debate, it has also engendered heated discussion on the local level.

The Garfield County Commissioner earlier this week voted to direct Judy Jordan, the county’s oil and gas liaison, to draft a letter saying that the county supports the BLM issuing final oil shale regulations. The county’s comments would be based on letters submitted to the BLM by Club 20 and the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado (AGNC). Commissioners John Martin and Larry McCown voted in favor of that move, while Commissioner Tresi Houpt voted against it.

Commissioners decided not to approve a letter that Jordan had written, which called for the BLM to postpone the development of final regulations. Jordan wrote that although the county understands the Energy Act of 2005 sets out a schedule for providing a regulatory framework for oil shale development, “the fact is that the technology for developing the resource is far behind the progress on the regulations.”

Commissioner Tresi Houpt, a Democrat, said the county should have supported the letter written by Jordan, which was “very consistent” with the position the county took in response to a draft environmental impact statement the BLM issued late last year. The county’s position then was that the BLM should “delay any decisions regarding commercial leasing until such time that the current (oil shale research projects) could be completed and the proposed technologies and their impacts better understood.”

Houpt said it was premature for the commission to support final regulations when three companies are still pursuing oil shale extraction technologies. She said she didn’t have the opportunity to read Club 20 or AGNC’s letters before Monday’s vote.

But Commissioner Larry McCown, a Republican, said the parameters and rules for any future leasing “like the rate of royalties ” need to be put forward.

“That has to be decided,” he said. “These folks have to know the rules of engagement. They have to know what is out there before they are going to proceed to (invest) billions of dollars.”

Commissioner John Martin said it wasn’t premature for Garfield County to request that final oil shale regulations be issued.

“I do have the confidence it is the right approach,” said Martin, a Republican. “I feel we are taking the responsible step. We need to move forward on this issue.”

The county has until Sept. 22 to submit its comments to the BLM about the agency’s draft oil shale leasing regulations, which the agency released in July.

Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117

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