Senators hear committee’s suggestion on easing into oil shale development
GRAND JUNCTION – The message Thursday to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was “bring on oil shale, but not too quickly.”Senators Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Pete Domenici (D-N.M.) held a committee field hearing in Grand Junction and got the message loud and clear that while oil shale can help the country achieve energy independence, research on new extraction technologies should be allowed to proceed slowly until they’re fully tested. However, the Energy Policy Act passed in August 2005, mandates the Bureau of Land Management to offer public land for commercial leasing by the summer of 2007.Elected officials from Rio Blanco and Mesa counties, both rich in oil shale resources and which will feel the strongest effects of development, were “cautiously optimistic” about oil shale’s future.Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis urged the senators to also explore other areas of the country that have potential energy resources.”The energy crisis is too big for one area of the country to bear the whole burden,” he said. Nor does northwestern Colorado want to be a “sacrifice zone” for energy development.No members of the Garfield County Commission spoke as witnesses at the hearing. Commission chairman John Martin was present in the audience and said the three county commissioners were not invited to speak at the hearing.County Commissioner Mike McKee from Uintah County, Utah, also expressed support, but worried that oil shale development in his county, which like Garfield and Rio Blanco, has seen booming natural gas development in the last few years, could further tax already over-burdened county services, especially road maintenance.Both Domenici and Salazar assured the standing-room-only audience in Grand Junction City Hall the new oil shale development would not repeat the mistakes of the 1980s boom that left northwest Colorado economically busted for almost a decade when development projects collapsed and energy companies pulled out.”Things are different now. … We do not want to make the mistakes of the past. We are going to make sure we do this right for you, your communities and for the environment,” Domenici said.Russell George, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, also said government should learn from the first oil shale boom.”It was my hope, then as now, that oil shale development will proceed in a fashion that will allow for adequate public review and comment and regulatory oversight at the state and local level,” he said.Both Domenici and Salazar agreed the steps for development laid out in the Energy Policy Act were sound and reasonable. The first step, which will take place this summer, is granting research, development and demonstration leases in Colorado and Utah. The BLM is also at work on an environmental impact statement that will analyze the potential effects of oil shale extraction technologies. Once it’s completed, the BLM will frame the regulations governing oil shale development on public lands.Salazar also said oil shale cannot meet all of the country’s energy needs, and other unconventional and alternative sources of energy, such as wind and solar energy, ethanol and biodiesel, must also be pursued.”It would be wrong for us as a nation to say no to oil shale,” Salazar said. “The amount of oil estimated to be locked up in oil shale tells us we seriously need to develop oil shale in a strategic manner. But it would be equally wrong to say we have all the answers.”Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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