BLM to hold open house on revised oil shale leasing plan |

BLM to hold open house on revised oil shale leasing plan

John Colson
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

SILT, Colo. – Federal land managers want to know how Colorado residents feel about a revised plan for oil shale and tar sands development that would cut acreage for leases by 75 percent compared to a plan approved in 2008.

To gather public comments, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will host an open house Monday evening in Silt on a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) that describes the revised leasing plan.

With the informal open-house format, BLM officials will be on hand to answer questions and collect comments from the public. People can come and go throughout the evening.

The draft EIS was issued in February, and a 90-day comment period gives interested citizens a chance to provide feedback.

David Boyd, media relations specialist for the BLM, said the current process was triggered by the Obama administration’s interest in taking another look at a 2008 decision made by the Bush administration. The Bush plan would open up 1.9 million acres of public land in three states to oil shale pilot programs, and 431,000 acres in Utah to tar sands development.

Under the new draft plan, BLM would lease 461,000 acres for oil shale in three states and 91,000 acres for tar sands, all in Utah, a cut of 75 percent. Of the oil shale total, BLM would lease up to 35,000 acres in Colorado, 252,000 acres in Utah and 174,000 acres in Wyoming, Boyd wrote in an email.

Boyd said the EIS “identifies what would be available in terms of possible future leases, but they’re not automatically ready to be leased.”

He said more information would be needed from the energy industry, including exact descriptions of a company’s extraction technology, before specific leases would be granted.

Oil shale consists of rock layers laid down millions of years ago that are permeated with kerogen, an oil-like substance formed from organic materials.

The biggest oil shale deposit in the world lies in the Green River Formation, which encompasses parts of western Colorado, southwestern Wyoming and northeastern Utah.

Government estimates peg recoverable shale oil reserves in the Green River Formation at 800 billion to 1 trillion barrels, more than three times the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. But it’s all tightly locked in shale rock.

For more than a century, the U.S. government and private industry have been seeking a profitable and environmentally acceptable way to extract the oil-like kerogen and refine it for fuel.

But despite massive investments by several energy companies, starting in the 1970s, no technology has yet proven commercially viable.

In the past year, Shell has successfully cooked shale deposits deep underground to produce a total of 1,700 barrels of kerogen in an experimental project west of Meeker.

Chevron recently announced it will abandon its oil shale leases in western Colorado.

But even some proponents of oil shale development admit commercial-scale development will be a tall order.

“It is a ways off,” said Shell spokeswoman Carolyn Tucker, in New Castle, without specifying how distant in time a commercial oil shale industry might be.

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