Feds urged to delay final oil shale regulations | AspenTimes.com

Feds urged to delay final oil shale regulations

Judith Kohler
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Colorado officials say an analysis of the effects of commercial oil shale development in the Rockies is “greatly deficient” and that the federal government should hold off on final regulations instead of issuing them before year’s end as planned.

Meanwhile an environmental group has asked the U.S. Department of the Interior to reverse a plan to forego the usual public protest period for such a decision.

Environmentalists say the Bush administration is trying to bypass protests to push through a plan for oil shale development before they leave office.

Environmentalists and some Colorado officials have accused the Bush administration of hurrying to open about 2 million acres of federal land in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah to commercial oil shale. Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, a Democrat, has said the administration is in “a headlong rush” to finish oil shale rules without adequately assessing potential impacts on the region’s air, water, wildlife and communities.

The region’s shale is thought to hold more than 1 trillion barrels of oil, of which about 800 billion barrels are believed to be recoverable. But the technology to squeeze the oil out of the rock is still experimental, and commercial production is likely at least a decade off.

Gov. Bill Ritter wrote in a letter Tuesday to Bureau of Land Management Director James Caswell that the agency’s environmental review and regulations lack the kind of analysis necessary to tell whether they’re consistent with Colorado’s laws and policies. The BLM should wait for results of ongoing research and development before issuing regulations, he wrote.

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, has questioned moving ahead on oil shale when the technology isn’t proven.

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Republican, has urged federal officials to finalize the rules before a new administration takes over.

President-elect Barack Obama has said he thinks more research is needed to determine whether the amount of oil mined from the shale would justify the impacts of development.

“It’s quite obvious that the lack of available information and facts is in no way slowing down the reckless rush to hand over the keys to nearly 2 million acres of Western land,” Chase Huntley, an energy policy adviser with The Wilderness Society in Washington, D.C., said Friday.

Huntley said his group expects the final regulations to be released this month and the final decision to be signed before the end of the year.

Matt Spangler, spokesman with the BLM in Washington, said the Office of Management and Budget is reviewing the regulations. He didn’t know when they would be issued.

“We’re still hoping to have it out by the end of the year,” Spangler said.

Federal officials have said they’re not rushing anything. They point out they’ve missed deadlines set in the 2005 federal energy bill for completing the oil shale environmental impact statement and regulations.

Even after rules are issued, federal officials say, more rounds of environmental reviews and permits from more than 40 federal, state and local agencies would be required before any projects are approved.

But Nada Culver, an attorney with The Wilderness Society in Denver, said the public is being cut out of the process because no protests of the final decision will be allowed. She said federal officials haven’t responded to an Oct. 6 letter from 11 conservation groups asking that public input be allowed.

“The BLM and Department of Interior are trying to avoid hearing from the public and comply with their own regulations because they apparently see that as some kind of speed bump on their way to paving the West with their policies,” she said.

BLM spokesman Spangler didn’t return a phone call Friday for comment on the question of protests.

The federal notice of the final oil shale plan said that because developing alternative energy resources is “of strategic importance in enhancing our Nation’s domestic energy supplies,” an assistant Interior secretary will make the final decision, which won’t be subject to administrative appeals.

Culver said state BLM directors typically issue such decisions, which can be appealed to the head of the Interior Department.

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