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Colorado County Board Criticizes BLM Oil Shale Plan

As part of what is supposed to be a three-state, multi-county action eventually, Garfield County commissioners in Colorado approved a joint resolution Monday that is highly critical of federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) scaled-back plans for oil shale development.

Rifle City, CO, is also considering a statement on the BLM's latest action, and it has set a meeting to hear from the public and take action on April 25.

The joint resolution is being pushed by 13 counties in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and drew more than two hours of public comments in Glenwood Springs, CO, most of which were supportive of the BLM changes from a 2008 version of the plan. The new plan reduces the overall federal acreage opened up potentially in the three states to 500,000 acres, including a smaller chunk, slightly less than 36,000 acres, in northwest Colorado.

County commissioners supporting the resolution defended its perceived "negative" tone because they feel the federal agency is listening too closely to "anti oil-shale and pro-wilderness groups" rather than working more closely with local government and the oil/gas industry to reap the economic advantages and still protect the environment.

Earlier this year, BLM issued a draft proposal, cutting in half the public lands that could be made available in three western states and limiting activities to early research and development projects for oil shale and tar sands resources (see Shale Daily, Feb. 6).

In a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) the preferred alternative would make 461,965 acres (35,308 acres in Colorado; 252,181 acres in Utah; and 174,476 acres in Wyoming) available for research and development of oil shale, and 91,045 acres in eastern Utah available for activities related to tar sands.

Garfield officials made selective changes in the resolution language to "tone it down" in regard to the degree of maturity in the ongoing industrywide oil shale research. They were uncomfortable with labeling oil shale technology and economics as "proven beyond a doubt." The assertion that it requires no consumption of water was also left out.

"I'm not totally sure that it has been proven to be economically feasible," said Commissioner Mike Samson in local news media reports. "And some of the extraction processes do require a lot of water."

Oil shale is not the same as shale oil. Oil shale comes from kerogen-rich rocks closer to the surface than shale oil formations. The rocks have to be heated to extremely high temperatures to convert the kerogen into oil. The economics and environmental concerns of oil shale are considerably different from those of shale oil.

Research and development are the appropriate first steps for public lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming that are believed to hold oil shale and tar sands resources, the PEIS said. BLM could issue a commercial lease after a lessee satisfies the conditions of its research, development and demonstration lease and meets all federal regulations for conversion to a commercial lease.

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