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Don’t rush into oil shale leasing

Dear Senator Pete Domenici, Senator Ken Salazar and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee:We, Northwestern Colorado elected officials, want to sincerely thank you for coming to the Western Slope of Colorado to discuss the issues that local communities have concerning the Federal oil shale program. Unfortunately, many of us will not be able to attend in person. We have drafted this letter to give you a sense of the common concerns of many of the elected officials in Northwestern Colorado. We do hope this is the beginning of a long and thorough dialogue. The Bureau of Land Management’s oil shale Research and Development Demonstration program is an important first step towards determining the potential for developing oil shale commercially. There are some basic questions that we simply cannot answer without the R&D program. 1. Is there a method to extract oil shale that is commercially viable? 2, Are there new technologies (such as the in-situ process) that can bring shale oil to market without the many environmental impacts associated with mining and retort?3. What is the maximum amount of oil shale production that can be allowed before air quality, water quality and quantity, social impacts and our infrastructure meet their limits?These questions should be answered before public land is leased for commercial oil shale production.The local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has stated that the 2005 Energy Policy Act requires commercial leasing of our public lands at the conclusion of the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement scheduled for completion by Feb. 8, 2007. That is not how we read the Act. The Act states (at 15927(e)) that following adoption of final regulations, the Interior Department must consult with the Governors of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, representatives of local governments, interested Indian Tribes, and the public to determine the level of support in the development of oil shale and tar sands resources. If “sufficient support and interest” is found in a state, then the Department may conduct a lease sale. We believe that commercial leasing should not occur until the success of the Research and Development Demonstration program has been measured.Additionally, we believe it is a mistake to direct the BLM to complete the oil shale Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement before the Research and Development Demonstration program is complete. Because of the timeline placed on the completion of the oil shale PEIS, the BLM has been placed in the impossible position of having to estimate the environmental effects of technology still being developed. This analysis also must consider all the possible social and economic effects of oil shale development for a large part of Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. This analysis would better serve the region if conducted in tandem with the R&D Demonstration program.The R&D demonstration program should be allowed to run its course before commercial leasing of public land is allowed. There are thousands of acres that are privately owned by oil and gas industry that can and will be developed for oil shale if a feasible technology is discovered. Our public lands provide many of our communities with our most important and sustainable industry – hunting and tourism. We believe that the Federal government has the responsibility to answer our very basic questions before allowing wholesale leasing of our public lands. When oil shale is mentioned on the Western Slope of Colorado it is discussed as an industry that brought our economy and communities to their knees. In the earliest part of the boom lack of housing and infrastructure had communities reeling and left people sleeping under bridges and in tent cities. Then, just as towns and counties were able to provide the needed infrastructure for the industry we experienced the bust. May 2, 1982, the day Exxon closed down its oil shale operations and sent home over 2,000 workers, is still referred to as “Black Sunday” in our communities. Local governments had created housing and infrastructure that was no longer needed. People walked away from their homes and mortgages. There was even a bank closing by FDIC. These are not the experiences of past generations. This is the experience of community leaders and people who hold elected office today. Colorado is already playing a large role in supplying energy to meet the needs of our country. Western Colorado is a national leader in natural gas production. But this boom has certainly created its own problems. Housing is at critical levels and worker’s “man-camps” are being set up. Many of our communities are stretching to meet current needs. Imposing the additional environmental and social impacts of oil shale development should only be done in a slow, systematic manner such that the needs of our communities are fully met. We hope that you will not allow mistakes of the recent past to be repeated. We urge you to not rush into oil shale leasing until more is known about the technology and the impacts a new oil shale industry will bring to our state. Sincerely,Tresi Houpt, Garfield County CommissionerKeith Lambert, Mayor of Rifle, CO Mick Ireland, Chair, Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners, on behalf of the entire BOCCMichael Hassig, Mayor, Town of CarbondaleScott Chaplin, Trustee, Town of Carbondale Alice Hubbard-Laird, Trustee, Town of Carbondale J. Russell Criswell, Trustee, Town of Carbondale Doug Edwards, Mayor, Town of PalisadeJames R. Bennett, Ph.D., Trustee, Town of Palisade Townsend H. Anderson, City Councilor, City of Steamboat SpringsKen Brenner, City Councilor, City of Steamboat SpringsTod Tibbetts, Mayor Pro-tem, Town of SiltDr. Teresa Coons, City Council, City of Grand JunctionFrank Breslin, Mayor, Town of New CastleBruce Christensen, Mayor, Glenwood SpringsJudy Beasley, Trustee, Town of Parachute


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