Maintaining that Colorado’s water supply is too fragile to put at risk, a diverse coalition of more than 100 of the state’s business, conservation and sporting groups sent a letter of support Wednesday for a U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposal to reduce the amount of land available for oil shale research and development.

BLM’s draft programmatic environmental impact statement issued in February proposes to focus oil shale (not shale oil) production in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado on “research, development, and demonstration” leases only and to reduce the available acreage to about 500,000 acres from nearly two million acres under an earlier plan (see Shale Daily, April 11; Feb. 17, 2011). The proposed plan has drawn sharp criticism from some producers and from legislative leaders and support from conservation groups.

The latest missive in support of BLM’s draft plan was sent to Acting BLM Director Mike Pool.

“The oil shale industry should be required to conduct the necessary research prior to commercial leasing to prove that oil shale is economically viable and that it will not pose a dangerous risk to our drinking water, our agricultural industry and our rivers,” the letter stated. “The technology behind oil shale development is unproven and could pose an unacceptable risk to Colorado’s water. No one knows just how much water would be needed for oil shale or what the full potential threat to water quality is in our state…

“Colorado is already facing a water crisis from this year’s drought,” with reports that Weld County, CO, farmers “are selling off cattle and that corn fields are dying. The Town of Ouray had to aggressively seek out new water sources to meet current demand, and the reservoir for the City of Steamboat Springs was troublingly low.”

The letter urged BLM to adopt the draft plan, which would significantly downsize a proposed plan issued under the previous Bush administration on oil shale development in the West. BLM is expected to finalize a plan for oil shale and oilsands development in the three states as soon as September.