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Oil shale development on track

Donna GrayGlenwood Springs correspondent

Spurred by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, oil shale development appears to be on a fast track in the region. The act calls for commercial leasing in 2007 and the Bureau of Land Management is preparing a wide-ranging environmental impact statement that will assess the effects of full-scale oil shale production.Many worry that the EIS will not adequately address those impacts, especially how local governments will have to deal with them.Garfield County recently submitted comments on the scoping phase of the document to the BLM, urging the agency to thoughtfully consider the social impacts of a major industrial development.What concerns the county’s long-range senior planner Randy Russell, who crafted the comments for the county commissioners, is the effect a very large workforce will have on a relatively rural area of western Colorado.With the brunt of development set to take place in neighboring Rio Blanco County to the north, its inability to house a large workforce will spill over into Garfield County, Russell said.”There are already ‘no vacancy’ signs in Rio Blanco,” he said.Garfield is also experiencing a less than 1 percent vacancy rate in rental housing. What will the demand for housing be when oil shale comes fully on line?”That’s the big question in our minds,” he said.Natural gas production in the county has already put a strain on county services. The few motels in the western end of the county are full of gasfield workers. The county is also looking at crafting requirements for so-called “man-camps,” temporary housing for transient workers, Russell said. They are sure to look much like the man-camps of the oil shale boom of the late ’70s and early ’80s. One such camp north of Parachute had 450 units ranging from recreational vehicles to a modular motel, Russell said.”We’re not there yet, but at the rate we’re packing them in here, it wouldn’t surprise me if [we had them] in the next few years, especially if oil shale takes off,” he said.Garfield County is also looking at tripling its population in the next 25 years. Russell said population projections from the state demographer’s office puts Garfield County at 148,000 people in 2030. The county’s current population is 50,000.Natural growth of the mountain resort region between Vail and Eagle drives growth in Garfield County, but oil and gas development is also a significant factor in both population and economic growth, Russell said.”There are about 50 drilling rigs operating now and that could reach about 80 in three to four years,” Russell said, for a projected 20,000 wells in the county over the next 15 years.”Couple that with the housing crunch and we’re coming close to a crisis in the west end of the county,” he said.Rentals are not the only problem. Prices for homes in the west end are steadily rising as demand increases. In the county’s comments to the BLM, Russell outlined impacts from oil shale development that should be addressed, including roads, transit, sewer, water, law enforcement, human services and emergency response.The Garfield County commissioners also requested that the BLM include local governments in its EIS planning process. The county was a cooperating agency during planning for energy development on the Roan Plateau.”A veteran of boom and bust events in the past, we think we can provide our insight and reasonable commentary with a range of expertise, on future development scenarios,” said County Commissioner John Martin in a Jan. 30 cover letter for EIS comments to the BLM.


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