Calling it a fresh look, the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced Wednesday a new multi-state environmental impact review on oil shale and tar sand plans in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. This could eventually impact the allocation of shale and tar sands resources.

In play potentially are tens of thousands acres on public lands in the three states that BLM identified in a 2008 final “programmatic” environmental impact statement (PEIS). It expanded the potentially available acreage for leases to about 1.9 million acres for oil shale and another 431,224 acres from tar sands. The report expanded potential acreage available for commercial tar sands leasing and amended eight resource management plans in the three states.

Applying requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), BLM has scheduled a series of seven public comment sessions, or public scoping meetings, spread across the three states, starting in Salt Lake City (April 26) and concluding in Cheyenne, WY, (May 5). In between, hearings are set also in Price, UT (April 27); Vernal, UT (April 28); Rock Springs, WY (April 29); Rifle, CO (May 3); and Denver (May 4).

Without specifically giving a thumbs up or down on BLM’s proposal, Utah’s governor’s energy advisor, Amanda Smith, who also serves as head of the state environmental quality department, said her state has “unprecedented oil shale resources [so] given current and future fuel demands, pricing and the goal of energy independence, it is incumbent upon the state to take a serious look at the potential of this resource and how to best develop it in an environmentally sustainable way.”

BLM officials said the new planning process will allow the federal agency “to take a fresh look” at what public lands are best suited for oil shale and tar sands development while commercial development of the oil shale is still several years into the future. “Final land-use decisions will be made in light of any new information about potential resource needs and impacts, and technological innovations.”

The intent to pursue a PEIS will be published in Thursday’s Federal Register, according to BLM Director Bob Abbey, who reiterated that the federal agency still supports “thoughtful, orderly and responsible” shale development.

“Public involvement is a vital component in this process as we seek to develop critical information about oil shale development,” Abbey said.