Environment: Lawsuit challenges federal study on oil shale and tar sands development in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming

Oil shale tar sands map Green River formation

Potential oil shale and tar sands development areas in the Green River formation of Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.

Conservation groups say BLM missed key step in environmental study

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A federal plan to develop oil shale and tar sands across about 800,000 acres of public lands in the West is missing a key piece, according to conservation groups, who say the Bureau of Land Management should have consulted with federal wildlife biologists before finalizing a major environmental study.

At issue are 9 BLM resource management plans in the Green River Formation of the Colorado River Basin, spread across parts of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Several months ago, the BLM approved changes in those plans with a single programmatic environmental impact statement. The changes make 687,600 acres available for oil shale leasing and 132,100 acres available for tar sands leasing. Continue reading

Conservation groups challenge latest BLM oil shale plan

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Conservation groups have challenged a new BLM plan for oil shale leasing.

Groups say feds ignored climate impacts in environmental studies for plan

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Framed in the context of growing concern about global warming, the Center for Biological Diversity this week formally protested the latest scaled-back plan for oil shale and tar sands research and development in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

The Grand Canyon Trust, Living Rivers and the Sierra Club also joined in the protest, claiming  the plan could unleash intensive greenhouse gas emissions, hasten the dry-up of the Colorado River, threaten wildlife and increase local and regional air pollution.

The protest is part of the formal BLM review and approval process, similar to an appeal of a U.S. Forest Service decision. The conservation groups claim that the BLM violated numerous provisions of various federal environmental laws and planning rules.

The BLM plan released last month calls for careful leasing of about 806,000 acres of public land where energy companies can try to solve the puzzle of in-situ development of oil shale. The 2012 plan resulted from the settlement of a 2009 lawsuit that challenged a previous version approved under the Bush administration that was criticized by conservation groups as a give-away to the energy industry.

Some advocates of careful oil shale research say the 2012 plan cut too much land, making it more difficult for energy companies to pursue oil shale development.

“Putting restrictions on the land doesn’t make a lot of sense to me … it would be better to let the companies decided what the best place is to operate,” said Colorado School of Mines professor Jeremy Boak, who specializes in oil shale research. “The restrictions seem extreme. Ninety percent of the land that has oil shale was taken out of play,” he said. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Environment: Colorado, Utah county officials may have met illegally to advocate for more oil shale development

A map from the draft environmental study for oil shale exploration and development identifies areas across the region where the resource is found.

Conservation groups say county commissioners may have violated open meeting laws

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —County commissioners from three states — Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — cozied up with energy company executives and lobbyists at a closed-door meeting in Utah last spring to try and unify support for a Bush-era oil shale plan.

Several hundred pages of documents released June 14 by Colorado Common Cause show clearly that the meeting went far beyond the informational purposes cited by some of the county officials, to adopting a draft resolution opposing the Bureau of Land Management’s latest scaled-back version of an oil shale plan.

The documents related to the meeting are online at the Colorado Common Cause website, and also at the No More Empty Promises website, which is part of the watchdog Checks and Balances Project.

Conservation advocates say the participation in the meeting by elected county officials may have been unethical at best and illegal at worst, in violation of open-meeting laws. Continue reading

U.S. House strips oil shale subsidy by one vote

U.S. House strips a $25 million subsidy for oil shale research from a federal budget bill.

Congressman Jared Polis leads efforts to redirect funds toward budget deficit reduction

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Wednesday’s vote by the U.S. House to remove a federal $25 million subsidy for oil shale research probably won’t end the dream of developing vast quantities of fossil fuel in northwestern Colorado, but it may give some energy companies reason to pause before they put their own money on the line.

The subsidy was stripped away from an energy and water appropriations bill in a 208-207 vote after Colorado Democrat Jared Polis offered an amendment to redirect the funds toward deficit reduction.

The bill still has to go through the Senate, said Western Resource Advocates’ David Abelson.

“Historically, everybody who has invested in this has lost money,” Abelson said, adding that he doesn’t think that energy companies will end their development efforts.

“There are deep pockets and large multinational corporations involved in this research and they need to stand on their own in this,” he said.

“We shouldn’t be throwing good money after bad on oil shale research that won’t produce energy for the foreseeable future,” Polis said. “Dumping another $25 million of taxpayer money into oil shale research makes no sense when there isn’t commercially viable technology that will turn it into oil and many energy companies consider it such a low priority.” Continue reading

Colorado: More West Slope oil shale leases proposed

Oil Shale ignites dreams of energy development on a vast scale. But is it sustainable?

Research and development leases could transition to commercial development

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Bureau of Land Management is preparing to lease a pair of 160-acre parcels in western Colorado for additional oil shale research and development.

The new proposal once again raising questions about whether any public land should be devoted to pursuing the dream of exploiting the potentially vast energy resources locked in the oil-rich rocks of the west slope. All the documents related to the leases are online at this BLM website.

On the surface, the goal is tempting. By some estimates, the shale patches in western Colorado and eastern Utah could produce more oil than the Middle East. But the question remains whether it’s worth devoting public resources like land and water to pursue technologies that still appear elusive. Continue reading

Colorado: West Slope meeting set on BLM’s oil shale plan

Areas shaded darker gray show areas with oil shale resources. Click on the map to see a full-size version at the Summit Voice Scribd.com feed.

Public meeting

Monday, March 12, 2012
BLM Colorado River Valley Office
2300 River Frontage Road, Silt, Colorado
7:00 p.m.-9:30 p.m.

SUMMIT COUNTY —West Slope residents will get a chance to give some input on the future of oil shale production in their region, as the Bureau of Land Management takes input on a revised leasing plan covering parts of northwest Colorado.

The BLM last month issued a draft environmental impact that scales back lands available for oil shale research and development leases, down to just 35,000 acres in Colorado.

Read an executive summary of the draft EIS posted online at the Summit Voice Scribd feed  and visit the BLM oil shale and tar sands home page to see the rest of the draft EIS and to sign up for updates and to comment on the draft.

Most environmental groups are bitterly opposed to development of oil shale, and many communities are wary of yet another boom-bust cycle of development, while advocates of shale say the resource has huge potential to help the U.S. reduce its dependence on imported oil.

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. Continue reading

Colorado: Polis blasts oil shale provision

U.S. Congressman Jared Polis. (D—CO)

Congressman seeks to strike mandatory leasing requirements from transportation bill

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Congressman Jared Polis took a strong stand on oil shale development this week, seeding to strike from a federal highway bill a provision that would require commercial leasing.

In a prepared statement, the Colorado Democrat said that oil shale development  won’t produce affordable American energy, won’t create jobs, and won’t provide new revenues.

Coloradans from both parties oppose the leases, fearing impacts to the state’s agriculture and recreation economy by depleting limited water resources and allowing oil companies to lock away more public land at fire sale prices. Continue reading

Colorado: BLM to scale back oil shale leasing

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.
Read an executive summary of the draft EIS posted online at the Summit Voice Scribd feed  and visit the BLM oil shale and tar sands home page to see the rest of the draft EIS, to sign up for updates and to comment on the draft. Continue reading

Colorado: Public comment sought on oil shale plans

A schematic showing the location of shale in northwest Colorado.

Scoping meetings set for Rifle and Golden May 3 and May 4

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — ExxonMobil wants to build roads, well pads, ponds, powerlines, pits, monitoring wells, storage tanks and other facilities as part of an oil shale research and development lease on the Piceance Plateau in northwestern Colorado. Click here to read the whole plan.

That lease along, with a similar one for Natural Soda Holdings, Inc. were up for public comment at a series of late-April meetings in Meeker and Rifle last week.

Separate Bureau of Land Management scoping meetings on on an Oil Shale and Tar Sands Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the region are set for May 3 and May 4 in Rifle and Golden. Continue reading

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