Government officials want more time to discuss Colorado oil shale plan
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER ” Colorado government officials wanting more time to comment about proposed oil shale development in western Colorado will likely only have until the Thursday deadline.
Despite requests from water providers and local governments, the Bureau of Land Management said Tuesday it could not extend the time for public comments on the plan covering nearly 2 million acres of public land in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.
The BLM released a draft plan in December to mine the oil locked in rocks on federal land in the three states and gave the public 90 days to comment. Government officials in western Colorado and eight water providers along the Front Range, including Denver Water, have asked for an extension, saying they needed more time to review the 1,400-page document.
The water managers and elected officials are concerned that the oil shale production facilities would drain up to 15 percent of western Colorado’s water supply. They also said the development would displace wildlife and create new sources of toxic waste.
“Many aspects of our lives would be jeopardized, including clean air and water, and ultimately, the strength of our communities,” wrote Pitkin County Commissioner Jack Hatfield in a Feb. 27 letter to Sally Wisely, state director of the BLM.
BLM spokeswoman Heather Feeney in Washington said officials are always willing to consider extending a public-comment period, but cannot do it this time. With two days left before the deadline, Feeney said an extension would mean officials would have to publish a federal register notice and reopen the comment period, which is unlikely to happen.
A final version of the plan is still due. More thorough analyses of specific projects will be done as they are proposed, BLM officials said.
Except for experimental projects, there is no current program for commercial oil shale development on federal land. Under the proposal, 359,798 acres of federal land in Colorado; 630,971 acres, including tar sands, in Utah and about 1 million acres in Wyoming would be made available for development.
Up to 1.8 trillion barrels of oil are trapped in the region’s oil shale, three times the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia, according to industry experts and federal officials. About 800 billion barrels are considered recoverable.
Also known as kerogen, shale is essentially a petroleum precursor that needs to be heated to be converted to oil.
The process has been tried off and on for nearly a century, including an attempt in the 1980s by Exxon. The company closed the $5 billion project in 1982 and 2,200 near Parachute in western Colorado lost their jobs as oil prices plummeted.
Environmentalists have said mining oil out of shale could require nearly three times the electricity used by the entire state of Colorado in 2005 and consume as much water each year as two cities the size Denver.
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