GLENWOOD SPRINGS - Three towns in Garfield County have recently urged the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to take the most restrictive and conservative approach regarding leasing of public lands for development of oil shale and tar sands.
This is in contrast to the position of the Garfield Board of County Commissioners.
In comments sent April 9, the commissioners blasted the BLM for paying too much attention to what the commissioners called "anti-oil-shale and pro-wilderness groups" in the agency's deliberations about the future of oil shale.
The elected boards of Rifle, New Castle and Carbondale all recently sent letters commenting on the BLM's Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement concerning the two energy-resource issues.
The federal agency is analyzing proposals to lease public lands in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah for research and development of both energy resources, although the tar-sands regions are only in Utah.
Oil-shale development, however, is a well-known phenomenon in local communities battered by the oil-shale boom and bust of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
On May 2, 1982, Exxon abandoned its Colony Oil Shale Project at Parachute, putting more than 2,000 people out of work and touching off a regional recession that lasted for years.
"In our attempt to avoid another oil/gas industry boom and bust," stated the New Castle letter, dated May 1, "New Castle is working hard to diversify our economy."
To ensure that oil shale is truly ready for commercial development, the letter continues, "We urge the BLM to insist that research and development of oil-shale technologies be completed and the impacts analyzed before moving forward with a commercial leasing program."
New Castle endorsed Alternative 3 in the impact statement, the most restrictive alternative, which limits oil-shale research and development activities to existing lease areas of about 27,000 acres in Colorado. The town of Carbondale and Pitkin County have taken the same position.
The Garfield County Commissioners and the governments of 13 counties in the three-state region, in a joint letter to the BLM, have lobbied for the BLM to simply return to the development plan adopted by the Bush administration in 2008.
The 2008 plan would have opened up some 2 million acres to energy development in the region, including about 346,000 acres in Colorado. The 2008 plan did not call for completion of research and development efforts prior to leasing.
The city of Rifle did not select a specific alternative, according to an April 26 story in The Citizen Telegram, but asked federal officials to carefully analyze the potential socio-economic impacts of large-scale development before issuing any further leases.
"Instead of selecting one of the alternatives put forward by the BLM, the Rifle City Council implores [Interior] Secretary [Ken] Salazar, BLM officials and our congressmen and senators to address the ... issues in whatever alternative is ultimately selected as the preferred alternative for the allocation of oil shale resources," the letter reads.
In addition to the letters from local towns, the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development and a coalition of 16 environmental and conservation organizations also have endorsed Alternative 3 in written comments submitted to the BLM.