Colo. county wants public lands opened to shale developers

04-10-2012 // Scott Streater - EnergyWire

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The leaders of a northwest Colorado county atop one of the world's largest oil shale reserves passed a formal resolution yesterday chastising an Obama administration proposal dramatically cutting the amount of public land available for research and development.

The Garfield County Commission unanimously approved the six-page resolution, which brushes aside critics of the largely experimental process of extracting crude from shale rock, arguing instead that oil shale technology "has been proven beyond a doubt," and that failure to develop this resource deprives the region of a significant economic development opportunity.

Garfield County is believed to be the first county with known oil shale reserves to pass such a resolution, though activists say county leaders in as many as 10 other counties in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are considering similar motions.

The county resolution comes two months after the Bureau of Land Management unveiled a draft programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) with a "preferred alternative" that would significantly downsize a George W. Bush administration plan to develop oil shale.

The Bush plan amended resource management plans in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming to make roughly 1.9 million acres of public land available for commercial oil shale development. BLM's proposal, however, would reduce available lands for oil shale development in the three states by more than 75 percent and would allow research on the leases only until industry demonstrates that commercial development is technically viable and environmentally safe (Greenwire, Feb. 3).

Industry groups have consistently asserted that the 2008 plan provides an excellent blueprint to encourage development of oil shale and tar sands resources without compromising environmental health and safety. And House Republicans are pushing a bill by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) that would turn the Bush plan into law (Greenwire, Feb. 1).

The Garfield County resolution mirrors many of those arguments, demanding that BLM "immediately cease and desist all activities related" to development of

The resolution notes that the Bush plan included the input of state governors and other stakeholders as required by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, while the draft PEIS "entirely ignores the input of the task force and stakeholders which the 2005 Energy Policy Act directed the BLM to honor and follow." The result is that the draft PEIS "threatens to arbitrarily undermine the process ... and essentially dismantle a reasonable and rational oil shale and tar sands program" in violation of the act, according to the resolution.

The Garfield County resolution also notes that "the development and production of oil from oil shale has been proven beyond a doubt to be technologically and economically feasible," adding that it "requires little to no consumption of water, contrary to the myths which falsely claim that oil shale extraction requires large consumption of water resources."

The critics respond

Environmentalists have a much different view of the issue.

They ripped the Garfield County resolution, accusing the commissioners of political grandstanding on an important issue that, if not handled carefully, could

Ken Neubecker, the executive director of Carbondale, Colo.-based Western Rivers Institute, said the commission's resolution "is a masterpiece of inaccuracies and political statements."

"It makes outrageous claims about proven and economically feasible technologies, about little to no water use, and it makes some flat-out political statements that are inappropriate," said Neubecker, who addressed the commission yesterday before it voted to approve the resolution. "I'm sorry, but it looks like it was written by somebody from the industry sitting in an office in Houston. I was disturbed by the wording."

Kate Zimmerman, the National Wildlife Federation's senior policy adviser on public lands, challenged the county resolution's claim that oil shale recovery is technologically feasible and environmentally safe.

"We still don't have an economically viable technology in place," Zimmerman said in a statement yesterday. "The most conservative estimates project that producing the oil will take large volumes of water and a lot of energy."

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