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New oil shale development on horizon

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colo. ” Everyone in Rifle knows about Black Sunday.

On May 2, 1982, Exxon closed its oil shale operations near Parachute, sending thousands of people into unemployment and shaking the foundations of the town and surrounding communities.

A region that had seen a big boom was now in a big bust.



Almost 26 years later, commercial oil shale development could return to the area.

On Wednesday, the Bureau of Land Management held an open house at the Garfield County Fairgrounds in Rifle about its draft programmatic environ­mental impact statement (PEIS), which has designated about 2 million acres in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming as possible areas for oil shale development.




The environmental impact statement was released in late December. Public comment on the PEIS is open until March 20, said David Boyd, a spokesman for the BLM.

The Wednesday afternoon meeting drew dozens of people, most of them from local governments and the oil industry. Another meeting was scheduled for later in the day.

At the meeting, three computers were set up to take public comment, and spe­cialists who wrote sections of the PEIS attended. They were there to answer questions from area residents and local officials.

Boyd said the BLM is accepting public comments about the PEIS for three months and will use them to draft the final PEIS, which is expected to be issued later this year. A record of decision, which could identify areas for possible commer­cial oil shale leasing in the area, may be released later this year.

Kent Walter, field manager for the BLM’s White River field office, said that Congress directed the agency to draft the PEIS from legislation passed in 2005. Although the draft environmental impact statement sketches out the possible effects of commercial oil shale leasing in the area, it is not a “leasing document,” Walter said.

“If commercial oil shale leasing occurs, it will not occur for a number of years,” Walter said.

Companies have been trying for years to develop an economically feasible way of extracting the vast oil shale reserves underneath several Western states. A renewed interest in the energy source has developed because of high oil prices and dimin­ishing world supplies.

Last year, the BLM gave three com­panies five 160-acre oil shale research, development and demon­stration leases in northwest Col­orado.

The BLM has said the potential oil shale resources within the Green Riv­er Formation are more than 50 times the United States’ current proven conventional oil reserves and about five times the proven reserves of Sau­di Arabia.

However, some critics have said that oil shale is an inefficient resource and have also pointed to the vast amount of water it would take to extract the resource from the ground. Joe Neuhof, West Slope field direc­tor for the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said the scope of the Wednesday meeting “was disap­pointing,” compared to recent meet­ings on proposed energy transmis­sion corridors on public lands. In those meetings, it felt like there was better opportunity for people to give “substantive testimony” than what occurred at the oil shale meeting Wednesday, Neuhof said.

“It felt like there were more citizens’ voices there,” Neuhof said. “This feels dominated by the BLM and the peo­ple who drafted the PEIS.”

Neuhof said his group wants to see no commercial oil shale leasing before there is feasible technology that can extract the resource effi­ciently and without serious environ­mental affects. One of the serious negatives of the oil shale develop­ment is the tremendous water con­sumption needed to drive it, Neuhof said.

Judy Jordan, the oil and gas liaison for Garfield County, said she came to the Wednesday meeting to get edu­cated on oil shale leasing because of its history in the area, and its poten­tial impact on the community.

“Understanding what the BLM knows will help us understand how (oil shale leasing) will affect us and help us plan for the future and how we need to prepare for it,” Jordan said.

pyates@postindependent.com


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