Combustible oil shale.
Under a court settlement, the agency will revisit oil shale and tar sands plans across the West; draft study available for comment here.
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Potential oil shale development in Colorado could be scaled back for the foreseeble future, as the Bureau of Land Management last week proposed cutting the acreage available for oil shale development by up to 90 percent.
The proposed changes came as part of a review of Bush-era policies that were rejected by most western Colorado residents and communities, and challenged in court by environmental groups. Ultimately, the BLM settled the legal challenge by agreeing to revisit the leasing program.
The newly released draft study identifies 35,308 acres in Colorado as appropriate for research and development of oil shale resources.
“The preferred alternative continues our commitment to encouraging research, development, and demonstration projects so that companies can develop technologies that can lead to economic and commercial viability,” said BLM director Bob Abbey.
“Because there are still many unanswered questions about the technology, water use, and impacts of potential commercial-scale oil shale development, we are proposing a prudent and orderly approach that could facilitate significant improvements to technology needed for commercial-scale activity. If oil shale is to be viable on a commercial scale, we must take a common-sense approach that encourages research and development first.”
Vast quantities of oil shale exist in northwestern Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. Several countries use oil scale commercially, including China and Estonia, but it’s been a challenge to find an economically viable extraction and development model in the arid West. Key questions about oil shale extraction water and energy demands or its impacts to local communities have not been answered, according to the Government Accountability Office.
A planned USGS baseline study of water resources could provide at least some answers.
The BLM released a draft environmental impact statement outlining how the agency will review and potentially revise land use plans in various jurisdictions in the region, garnering a favorable reaction from many Colorado residents.
“Having worked for the BLM and Department of the Interior for many years, I know well the challenge of land management,” said Vern Lovejoy, a former outdoor recreation planner with the BLM in Wyoming. “Oil shale can be developed in many places, but we need to make sure we understand the potential impacts on a site-by-site basis before we enter into leases that will forever change the environment. There has to be more of an analysis than ‘out of sight, out of mind.’”
“Hunting and fishing are huge economic drivers in the West – with an economic impact of $1.5 billion in Colorado alone,” said John Ellenberger is the retired big game manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “We cannot afford to risk those jobs and the critical big game habitat deer and elk need to survive. But moving forward with oil shale development prematurely puts at risk this world-class wildlife and the jobs and hunting heritage that healthy natural resources provide to our state.”
“While I have long felt there is potential for oil shale development, it is critical that a number of unanswered questions be resolved before commercial-scale leasing takes place,” Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, said in a prepared statement. “Fully understanding the demands of oil shale development on Colorado’s water and local communities is essential to ensuring responsible development.”
Oil shale is a term used to describe a wide range of fine-grained, sedimentary rocks that contain solid bituminous materials called kerogen. It should not be confused with “shale oil,” which is not addressed by the draft PEIS. Kerogen, which is organic matter derived mainly from aquatic organisms, releases petroleum-like liquids when subjected to extremely high temperatures – more than 750 degrees. Developers have been trying to produce oil from this rock in an economically-viable way for more than a century. The majority of U.S. oil shale (and the world’s largest oil shale deposit) is found in the Green River Formation in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.
Tar sands are sedimentary rocks containing a heavy hydrocarbon compound called bitumen. They can be mined and processed to extract the oil-rich bitumen, which is then refined into oil. However, unlike the oil sands deposits in Canada, oil is not currently produced from tar sands on a significant commercial level in the United States. Additionally, the U.S. tar sands are hydrocarbon wet, whereas the Canadian oil sands are water wet. This difference means that U.S. tar sands will require different processing techniques.
Filed under: Colorado, energy, Environment, Summit County news Tagged: | BLM, Bureau of Land management, Colorado, energy, Environment, oil shale