Residents, industry give input on oil shale in Rifle |

Residents, industry give input on oil shale in Rifle

John Colson
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox/Post IndependentGlenn Vawter of Glenwood Springs, executive director of the National Oil Shale Association, offered his perspective at the hearing hosted by the Bureau of Land Management in Rifle on Tuesday. Citizens for and against the development of oil shale resources on BLM lands had the opportunity to voice their concerns at afternoon and evening hearings conducted at Colorado Mountain College.

RIFLE, Colo. – An opinionated group of area residents weighed in on the prospect of oil shale development on Tuesday in Rifle, and officials from the federal Bureau of Land Management were not surprised by the intensity of the feelings displayed.

“If there’s any of you out there who don’t like $4 gas, be prepared for $8 gas,” said Allen Burnham, chief of technology at American Oil Shale LLC, arguing that oil shale development is needed to alleviate U.S. dependence on foreign sources of oil.

“Oil shale development would be perpetuating a negative feedback cycle of dirty technology,” countered Melanie Finan, who also said she thinks the BLM should “draw back on the scale of the amount of land that you want to lease.”

A team of BLM officials held a public input session at Colorado Mountain College – West Garfield Campus on Tuesday, as part of a re-evaluation of oil shale leasing decisions made at the end of the administration of former U.S. President George Bush. The Bush administration, in its final days in office, opened up the 1.9 million acres to oil shale leasing, prompting a lawsuit by environmental organizations arguing the administration had violated federal laws.

The government and several large energy companies are hoping to come up with a development process to extract kerogen, an oil-like substance trapped in a shale formations deep in the earth, which can be processed into fuel.

It is estimated that there are the equivalent of 1.5 trillion barrels of oil in shale formations underlying the Piceance Basin in northwest Colorado and other fields in Utah and Wyoming.

Tom Alvarez, public affairs specialist for the BLM in Grand Junction, cited the remarks of Garfield County Assessor Jim Yellico as the most memorable of the meeting, explaining, “All he wanted was honest information, the truth.”

“It’d be nice if, with your recommendations, there were some facts, and the truth,” said Yellico, a Glenwood Springs native and a self-proclaimed citizen “concerned about the environment.” He told the BLM team that citizens wanted to hear facts rather than divergent claims and counterclaims made by proponents and opponents of the untried industry.

“I would like to see some sort of document that includes the facts, from a source that doesn’t have an agenda,” Yellico concluded.

Over the course of three hours in the afternoon, more than 30 people, out of nearly 100 in attendance, offered their views about what the BLM should do about leasing 1.9 million acres of oil shale lands, as well as more than 431,000 acres of tar sands, to the energy industry.

Roughly half of the speakers urged federal regulators to essentially get out of the way of the energy industry while the other half argued for a slower approach or no development at all.

Glenn Vawter, head of the National Oil Shale Association, urged the BLM team to remake itself to include more experts in oil shale and mining, to provide points of view he said are lacking in the current review.

But a number of people, ranging from young, college aged residents to some who lived in Garfield County during the last oil shale boom of the 1980s, urged caution.

“I require clean air and clean water to live,” said Richard Vottero of Glenwood Springs, “and I believe this process damages both.” Oil shale development would pollute the air with greenhouse gases and consume vast quantities of water, he said.

The government would better serve its citizens by pursuing alternative, clean energy sources that do not pollute or put added pressure on the region’s scarce water resources, he added.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that it would take from two to five barrels of water to produce one barrel of “shale oil,” although recent technological advances have lowered industry estimates to anywhere from one to four barrels of water per barrel of oil produced.

One speaker, Allen Burnham, stated that his company, American Shale Oil LLC, has developed a technique that uses less than a barrel of water to produce a barrel of shale oil.

Others were not convinced.

“The water here is just too precious a resource to waste in this manner,” declared Benita Phillips, a member of the Western Colorado Congress citizen action group and a registered nurse.

Still others warned about the lessons learned from the last oil shale boom.

“These development booms put tremendous pressure on our infrastructure,” said Rifle Mayor Pro-tem Jay Miller, referring to municipal services such as housing, law enforcement and water treatment.

He said the Rifle City Council has taken the position that oil shale development should not occur until a way is found to minimize the impacts on local communities.

But some said infrastructure impacts, while serious, should not interfere with the creation of an industry that will bring jobs and economic development to the area.

“The air and water here is in better shape than it’s ever been,” said area native Ed Cooley, plant manager for the Shale Tech International research and development company in Rifle.

He and others questioned the need to review the leasing decision made under the Bush administration, which they maintained is a waste of government resources and time.

“We need oil shale in our future,” said Rangely Mayor Peter Brixius.

Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said, “There’s some exciting things that are happening out there.” He predicted that energy companies will find a way to “meet the environmental laws of our nation” and create a viable oil shale industry.

A settlement of that lawsuit is the reason for the review of the Bush administration action, as well as the plan to create a new Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, or PEIS. The PEIS governs the leasing of lands in the three states, mostly under BLM control, oil shale research, demonstration and development projects.

The BLM’s scoping process, which included a meeting Tuesday night from 6-9 p.m., continues Wednesday with afternoon and evening meetings at the Denver West Marriott, 1717 Denver West Blvd., in Golden.

The meetings are scheduled for 1-4 p.m. and from 6-9 p.m.

Others wishing to make a formal comment to be included in the PEIS may log on to and look for the comment button.

According to project manager Sherry Thompson of the BLM, the process is expected to take until December 2012 to produce a new PEIS.

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