Wyoming governor opposes BLM’s plan to cut oil shale leasing | AspenTimes.com

Wyoming governor opposes BLM’s plan to cut oil shale leasing

Ben Neary
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Gov. Matt Mead has told the U.S. Bureau of Land Management that he disagrees with the agency’s proposal to reduce the amount of land in the state available to possible oil shale research and demonstration projects by placing sage grouse areas as well as potential wilderness lands and areas of critical environmental concern off-limits.

The BLM proposes to cut the acreage available for the oil shale projects and research from 2 million acres approved by the Bush administration in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah down to about 460,000 acres, of which nearly 175,000 are in Wyoming. The agency is working on a draft environmental study and intends to make leasing decisions by this fall.

Mead filed his comments Friday with the BLM. Spokesmen for environmental groups said Monday they disagreed with Mead’s position and warned that oil shale development could leave sites heavily disturbed.

Oil shale is rock that holds deposits of fossilized algae that never received enough pressure to produce crude oil. While the American West contains huge deposits of the material, success at getting it to produce oil on a commercially viable basis has proved elusive.

Mead stated in his comments that further oil shale research, development and demonstration are warranted. He said areas least susceptible to adverse impacts from oil shale projects and easiest to reclaim would be best suited to the projects.

However, Mead said he disagreed with the federal agency’s proposal to exclude possible development from sage grouse core areas, land with wilderness characteristics and in designated acres of critical environmental concern.

Mead noted that mineral development is not currently precluded in sage grouse core areas – places set aside by executive orders in Wyoming where development is limited to protect the birds. Wyoming and other western states are anxious to avoid possible endangered species protections for sage grouse which could hurt energy development.

On the issues of land with wilderness characteristics and areas of critical environmental concern, Mead stated that instead of enacting blanket exclusions in such areas, the BLM should allow local resource management plans to determine their future. He said such plans generally are crafted with the involvement of local people.

Renny MacKay, spokesman for Mead, said Monday the governor believes that allowing the resource management planning process to determine land uses will lead to better decisions.

“That allows for more analysis,” MacKay said. “It allows for a more local, participatory approach to land determination, in cooperation with state and local interests.”

Erik Molvar, executive director and wildlife biologist with the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, said Monday he found it surprising that Mead would call for less protection for sage grouse core areas. He said oil shale development would, “completely destroy the ability of developed lands to sustain sage grouse.”

“It still opens up 174,000 acres of Wyoming to development that’s going to be the most intensive land use the state has ever seen to extract the dirtiest fossil fuel known to man,” Molvar said of the BLM proposal.

“And given the fact that oil shale has never been proven to be feasible for producing a liquid transportation fuel, which is what the intent is here, this is a case where the end does not justify the means,” Molvar said. “This state would be much better off if we never had oil shale development in it.”

Bruce Pendery, lawyer with the Wyoming Outdoor Council, said Monday that his group is happy to see Mead acknowledge that there has never been commercially successful oil shale development.

Pendery said it’s clear that the BLM sees oil shale as an issue with regional significance that should be regulated by a single planning document.

“It has broad regional implications, and you see BLM approaching some of these energy development issues on a national basis,” Pendery said.

Pendery said it’s certain the federal government is feeling pressure to try to produce more gasoline off of federal lands given gas prices. He said he expects the BLM’s final decision will be roughly similar to its current proposal. The final decision is expected this fall.

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