Colorado: Public comments favor careful oil shale plan

Oil shale lands in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

Energy industry spin meisters skew interpretation of public comments on BLM draft plan

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Just a few weeks after oil shale advocates held a press conference touting alleged public support for an aggressive leasing plan favored under the Bush administration, a watchdog group is charging that the numbers were intentionally skewed by an industry front group.

ECCOS deliberately misled the public and trumped up support for a radical plan that puts our water and communities at risk from oil shale speculation,” said Matt Garrington, co-director of the Checks and Balances Project.

At issue are public comments on a draft oil shale leasing plan. The input was collected by the Bureau of Land Management during the public comment period. An older version of the plan approved under the Bush administration opened more than 2 million acres in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming to speculative leasing.

In 2012, the BLM released a new draft plan that cut the acreage significantly and emphasized a measured approach to oil shale, with a focus on research and development. Since then, community and environmental groups have been sparring with the industry, and even with local governments.

A record of public comments is online here.

ECCOS first released their analysis at a press conference in Grand Junction, Colo. earlier this month. ECCOS Executive Director Brad McCloud was joined at the event by representatives of Club 20 and the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, where he wrongly characterized the controversial plan developed under the Bush administration has having received the most support.

“It’s embarrassing that Commissioner Meis and the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce got used as props so that ECCOS could put out more misinformation about oil shale,” said Garrington.

The Checks and Balances Project did its own comprehensive audit of stakeholder comments to the Interior Department and found:

  • 72 comments – or 51 percent – oppose the Bush oil shale plan;
  • 52 comments – or 37 percent – support the Bush oil shale plan; and
  • 77 comments – or 55 percent – support the BLM’s approach, the BLM plan, a stronger conservation approach, or a “research and development” approach.

The audit did not include an analysis of the hundreds of thousands of individual comments received by the Interior Department, though the supermajority of those comments support the BLM’s approach or an even stronger conservation plan.

“After a century of failure, westerners are opposed to putting our water and communities at risk to costly oil shale speculation,” said Benita Philips, president of Western Colorado Congress of Mesa County.

A closer look at ECCOS may provide an explanation as to why the information was so badly misrepresented. The nonpartisan SourceWatch identified ECCOS, as a front group created by the Grand Junction-based energy lobbying firm EIS Solutions. Since ECCOS files with the I.R.S. as a 501(C)(4) organization, ECCOS  doesn’t have to disclose its donors. However, its leadership and public record show strong ties to the oil industry.

ECCOS Executive Director Brad McCloud is also a project Manager for EIS Solutions, as was former Executive Director Curtis Moore. When Moore first set up ECCOS, he used his EIS email address to register the ECCOS website, as well as EIS Solutions corporate phone number and street address.

Earlier this year, EIS Solutions released a report commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute with trumped-up charges that public lands and water protections were too onerous for the oil and gas industry.

According to the Checks and Balances Project, ECCOS spokespeople tend to vary the story they tell about oil shale based on their audience. In their brochure, ECCOS claims oil shale is on the verge of economic viability right now, and the cost of oil shale production is approaching parity with conventional oil at today’s oil prices.

Yet in an open letter in late 2010, former Executive Director Curtis Moore wrote, “No one is proposing massive oil shale development today. That time — if it ever comes — is decades away.” And, on a separate occasion Mr. Moore admitted, “Oil shale may not yet be ready for prime time.”


One Response

  1. It appears that the Summit County Citizen’s Voice has little interest in balanced reporting. This editorial piece gives Matt Garrington an unrestricted opportunity to put forward his assertion that the Administration chose a “measured approach” to oil shale development.

    PEIS Option 4 was the only balanced approach in the BLM’s draft, backing off the Bush administration proposal so as to give recognition to the concerns of environmental groups, but not removing 90% of the most prospective land in Colorado and setting up years more of delay and litigation for every acre opened up.

    The remaining acreage in the preferred option, although substantial in Utah and Wyoming, is heavily weighted toward those areas of very low grade that are unlikely to be of interest to any serious developers. Yet Mr. Garrington continues to argue that this acreage is so huge, it must be enough. If the BLM opened up thousands of acres of land for wind farms in areas that had very low sustained winds, would the industry be wrong to complain? Like climate change skeptics and creationists, Garrington can always find a new audience who has not heard the technical refutation of his political arguments.

    The Administration’s plan is a subtly veiled attempt to shut down oil shale development, portrayed as reasonable. With well-funded efforts like Mr. Garrington’s, it is convincing many people who, like Mr. Garrington, know very little about the industry or about the BLM’s leasing process (or is he perhaps only feigning ignorance?). Without changing the acreage available, the BLM could easily manage a careful and staged process through the ability to define conditions on an acceptable lease application, which it has shown it can do.

    When the Voice writes, “Earlier this year, EIS Solutions released a report commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute with trumped-up charges that public lands and water protections were too onerous for the oil and gas industry,” it makes it clear that even considering ECCOS’s assertions as credible is too balanced for them.

    When they state, “According to the Checks and Balances Project, ECCOS spokespeople tend to vary the story they tell about oil shale based on their audience,” they make it clear whose mouthpiece they are, and state nicely the problem with lending credence only to political advocacy groups who pretend by their title to favor balance. The statement is certainly as accurate with regard to the so-called Checks and Balances Project.

    But perhaps the Voice never intended to include balance in its mission.

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