Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on Friday announced the department’s final plan for encouraging research, development and demonstration (RD&D) of oil shale and tar sands resources on more than 800,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in three western states.

The record of decision and plan amendments make nearly 700,000 acres in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming available for potential oil shale leasing and about 130,000 acres available for potential tar sands leasing in Utah.

In November the BLM signed two additional leases for RD&D oil shale proposals to encourage industry to develop and test technologies aimed at developing oil shale resources on a commercial scale.

“This plan maintains a strong focus on research and development to promote new technologies that may eventually lead to safe and responsible commercial development of these domestic energy resources,” Salazar said. “It will help ensure that we acquire critically important information about these technologies and their potential effects on the landscape, especially our scarce water resources in the West.”

Under the record of decision, the BLM-managed lands will be available for RD&D leases of oil shale resources. Eligible companies could convert to commercial leases after satisfying the conditions of the RD&D lease and meeting basic due diligence requirements and clean air and water requirements.

When the plan was announced last year, Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), chairman of the House and Energy Power Subcommittee, said the initiative would block an additional 1.6 million acres of federal lands from leasing (see Shale Daily, Nov. 14, 2012).

Oil shale is a fine-grained sedimentary rock containing kerogen; which is often confused with “shale oil.” While shale oil can be produced very similarly to shale gas, developing oil shale requires the extraction of kerogen from the surrounding rock, then processing it using extremely high heat and pressure to yield petroleum-like liquid.