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Colorado: More wrangling over oil shale leasing plan

The BlM is evaluating comments on a draft oil shale leasing plan.

Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, Club 20 endorse Bush-era vision for leasing; farmers, river users not happy

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Community and environmental advocates in Colorado say a mid-October press event touting support for a Bush-era oil shale leasing plan was engineered as a publicity stunt by an energy industry front group.

That may not be unusual in itself, but the group managed to entangle Club 20 and the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce in their web of deceit, and that has angered some western Colorado business owners.

“We’re disappointed in the Chamber. Local businesses deserve better,” said Adventure Bound River Expeditions owner Tom Kleinschnitz. “Colorado just went through our worst drought in ten years. Now is not the time to jeopardize the Colorado River – and the jobs that depend on that river – with costly oil shale speculation,” Kleinschnitz said.

“It makes no sense to put our water, our businesses, and our jobs at risk for costly oil shale speculation,” said Seth Anderson, owner of Loki Outwear. “The Chamber needs to think about the future of businesses already here and employing people in Grand Junction,” he said.

At issue are different versions of a Bureau of Land Management plan for leasing public lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming for potential oil shale development.

A 2008 Bush-era plan would have opened up about 2 million acres to speculative commercial leasing. The Bush-era plan was replaced in 2012 by a new plan (still in a draft phase) that would take a more measured approach, by drastically cutting the acreage for leasing and emphasizing research ahead of commercial leasing.

In Colorado, the new plan would cut lands available for leasing from 346,000 acres to 35,000 acres — still more than enough to do research and development, according to community and environmental activists. The Obama administration version of the plan is widely supported by western Colorado residents, said Matt Garrington, of the Checks and Balances Project.

But earlier this month, a group that calls itself Environmentally Conscious Consumers for Oil Shaleclaimed that its analysis of public comments on the BLM oil shale draft plan shows strong support for an alternative that’s similar to the old 2008 version. The group announced it’s findings — met with some skepticism — in a joint press conference with Club 20 and the Grand Junction chamber.

“We’ve reviewed all the comments that came in … The majority of the organizational comments that came in basically favor alternative 1, which is the same as the 2008 PEIS,” said Club 20 director Bonnie Petersen. “What we’re saying is, based on public comment, it’s time to look at alternative and to stop spending taxpayer money re-doing this,” Petersen said, adding that Club 20 still supports a phased approach over an oil shale land rush.

“We think the BLM is considering a smarter plan that allows research on a half million acres of public land. If they can’t figure it out on half a million acres, they’re never going to figure it out,” Garrington said, explaining that, in Colorado, more than 200,000 acres are already dedicated to oil shale exploration, with multiple research projects in progress.

“The Bush plan was a mess, based on speculation, and a lot of the costs associated with development would be forced on local communities,” he said.

By contrast, the 2012 plan requires oil shale companies to prove economic viability and disclose impacts to resources, including water, before proceeding with commercial leasing.

A number of business owners from the ranching, agriculture and recreation sectors signed on to a letter criticizing Club 20 and the Grand Junction chamber for their support of the Bush-era plan.

Text of the letter:

October 25, 2012

Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce

Attn: Diane Schwenke, Executive Director

360 Grand Avenue
Grand Junction, CO 81501

Club 20

Attn: Bonnie Petersen, Executive Director

P.O. Box 550
Grand Junction Colorado 81502

Directors Schwenke and Petersen:

We are writing to express our strong concerns over recent statements made to the press regarding oil shale speculation on public lands. Last week, you held a press conference with three other area groups to call on the BLM to move forward in Colorado with commercial oil shale leasing on public lands despite the lack of a commercially viable technology and risks to our water.

As you know, Grand Junction and surrounding communities rely on a diversified economy to support our families and thrive. Farming and ranching, travel, and tourism employ over 10,000 people in Mesa County. These industries are an important economic driver for the entire area.

We believe that before moving forward with commercial oil shale leasing, energy companies should prove that there is a commercially viable technology. We also need to know the full impacts on our water supplies, in terms of both quality and quantity.

A study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that commercial oil shale development could eventually require the same amount of water that is used to supply 750,000 households – or a city 30 times the size of Grand Junction.

Water is a scarce, precious resource that all of us depend upon. The wildfires and drought this year have underscored this fact and hurt scores of families, ranchers, farmers, anglers, outfitters, hospitality industry businesses and others in Colorado. We cannot afford to further stress our limited water resources to speculate on oil shale with unproven technologies.

We local businesses support the Bureau of Land Management’s work to develop an oil shale leasing policy and land management plan that protects our water and our economy. We believe that we should not put existing jobs and businesses at risk simply to engage in oil shale speculation.

We hope that you’ll reconsider your position and support a sensible approach to oil shale.

Sincerely,

Tom Kleinschnitz

Adventure Bound River Expeditions

2392 H Road

Grand Junction, CO

Seth Anderson

Loki LLC

Grand Junction, CO

Talbott Farms

Bruce Talbott

Palisade, CO

Klaseen Ranch

Charles Klaseen

Crawford, CO

Dvorak Raft, Kayak & Fishing

Bill Dvorak

Nathrop, CO

Performance Tours, Inc.

Kevin Foley

Breckenridge, CO

Arkansas River Tours

Bob Hamel
Cotopaxi, CO

KODI Rafting

Sawatch Rescue &

Rivers Clothing Company

Christian “Campy” Campton

Frisco, CO

Wilderness Aware

Joe Greiner

Buena Vista, CO

Canyon Voyages Adventure Co.

Denise Oblak, Don Oblak

Moab, UT

Holiday River Expeditions

John Wood

Salt Lake City, UT

Western River Expeditions
Brian Merrill
Moab, UT

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2 Responses

  1. As usual, Matthew Garrington distorts the nature of the BLM’s current preferred plan. He says “If they can’t figure it out on half a million acres, they’re never going to figure it out,” While it does allow leasing on 500,000 acres of land in the three states, the quality of the resource on most of that land is substantially poorer than average. This point has been made to Mr. Garrington before, but he seems to be willing to ignore the flaw in his argument when he has an audience that has not heard it pointed out. In this regard, his approach resembles that of Climate Change skeptics and creationists. 90% of the richest land in Colorado is held back, apparently so that we can have another six years of wrangling and lawsuits over each 35,000 acres allowed for leasing in Colorado. A significant amount of the 35,000 acres is already committed to existing leases and lease preference areas, but not even all of that is included. The earlier plan is consistently portrayed elsewhere as if it mandated a single lease sale of 2 million acres, which reflects either ignorance or deceit. The BLM has plenty of ways to restrain the pace of development without deciding exactly which acres any new company can lease. Either option 1 or option 4 recognized that and represented reasonable paths to careful, staged development. The administration’s choice is a draconian cutback in the availability of land to new companies interested in testing technology, as if the government could determine better than industry which plot of land was most likely to prove up the technology. It also insists on research and development in Utah for systems that are already commercially available, where it is again either ignorance or deceit that leads people to assert there is no commercially available technology. Hardly a sound basis for policy decisions.

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