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 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,” BLM director Bob Abbey after release of the draft study.
“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,” Abbey said.
Vast quantities of oil shale exist in northwestern Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. Several countries develop oil scale commercially, including China and Estonia, but in those areas, the shale is hauled off site to a retort. In the West, the plan is to try and develop the resource in situ, deep in the ground, in a process that could require vast amount of energy and water.
Conservation groups are rallying residents and activists to attend the meeting and express their concern over oil shale development.
“Recent droughts in the West highlight how very important it is that we are very careful in how we use of our limited water supply,” said Joe Livingston, a long-time rancher in the Meeker area. “We may very well need the water to sustain our food supply. There are simply too many questions regarding the production of oil from oil shale to have it considered as anything but a high-risk investment. To allocate our water supply to the industry can only be viewed as a bad judgment,” Livingston said.
“As a chemical engineer, I believe in science, but the truth is we simply don’t have enough research about oil shale’s potential impact on our limited and already over-allocated water supply,” said Palisade resident Tom Phillips. We should know the impacts to both water quality and quantity before moving forward with oil shale speculation.”
It’s not always easy to sort through the rhetoric when it comes to an emotionally charged issue like oil shale development, but deceptive and misleading headlines in the media aren’t helping the public, said Jeremy Boak, Director of the Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research at the Colorado School of Mines. In the long run, those emotional arguments could erode the credibility of conservation groups and ultimately be exposed as fraudelent, Boaks said, deliberately choosing strong language to make his case.
In part, he was referring to the repeated claims that oil shale isn’t ready yet for commercial development. In fact, some companies may be quite close to the point of demonstrating that they can viably produce oil.
“Shell has done virtually the whole process, but they’re being really cautious,” he said. “They know there’s resentment on the West Slope.”
Boak said some of the latest estimates show that the return on energy investment could be as high as three-to-one or even five-to-one, meaning that every barrel of oil used to provide the energy to extract the oil could yield three to five barrels in return. In parts of Utah, where the shale is a higher grade, the return could be as high as 10 to one.
“That’s better than the return on corn-based ethanol,” he said.
Boak was also direct in describing how the BLM’s proposal to reduce the leasing acreage could affect the development of the resource.
“Nobody else will be allowed to come in, and they’re saying that’s just too bad … They’re biasing the selection of land away from the potentially most productive areas,” Boak said. “In the basin with the richest oil shale, they’ve removed 85 percent of the land. They’ve sort of concluded not to allow anybody new to the game.”