Oil Shale Effects Profound

Study: Oil shale's effects profoundNearly 2 million acres in 3 states could be leased

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Commercial oil shale development in western Colorado is expected to supplant all current uses of the land in areas slated for oil shale leasing, urbanize small towns, dramatically affect regional air and water quality, stamp out agriculture, cause a decline in some property values and drive away thousands of recreation-related jobs while creating thousands more oil shale-related jobs.

That’s the federal government’s conclusion in a draft environmental study released Thursday of the Bureau of Land Management’s fledgling commercial oil shale leasing program. Called the Oil Shale and Tar Sands Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, the report is available online at http://ostseis.anl.gov.

The BLM has no specific date for when commercial leasing will begin, but BLM spokeswoman Heather Feeney said it will be at least 10 years before construction can begin on any future leases.

Of three possible oil shale development scenarios outlined in the statement, the BLM’s preferred scenario calls for 1.99 million acres of federal land and mineral estate to be available eventually for commercial oil shale leasing in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. More than 359,000 acres would be available for leasing in Colorado, all of which would be in the Piceance Basin southwest of Meeker and due north of Parachute.

If leasing goes forward, oil shale development would preclude all other uses of the federal land where extraction would occur, including ATV use, agriculture and all other oil and gas development, the statement says.

Oil shale development, the statement says, would create a plethora of new jobs but would decimate the region’s recreation industry. The government projects up to 2,830 recreation-related jobs will be lost in the region because of oil shale.

“The number of new residents from outside the producing regions and the pace of population growth associated with commercial development of oil shale resources, including large-scale production facilities and ancillary power plants, coal mines and housing developments, would likely lead to substantial demographic and social change in small rural communities,” the statement says.

Construction of a single in situ oil shale processing site, similar to that now being studied by Royal Dutch Shell, would create up to 2,900 jobs, producing up to 950 jobs during peak operations, the statement says. Construction of power plants for the in situ oil shale sites would produce up to 3,100 jobs, with up to 330 remaining during plant operations. Coal mines needed to power the shale production process would create up to 1,300 jobs.

Housing construction for oil shale workers in the three states would create up to 620 jobs, while such construction for power plant workers would create up to 820 jobs. Coal-mine worker housing construction would account for up to 320 jobs, the statement says.

Increases in traffic and access to remote areas would continue the landscape changes already occurring with natural gas development, the statement says, adding that “the value of private ranches and residences in the vicinity of oil shale developments ... may be reduced because of perceived noise, traffic, human health or aesthetic concerns.”

The government doesn’t know how much surface and ground water any method of oil shale extraction would consume, but where the industry acquires water rights, oil shale development “may result in a complete loss of agricultural uses in some areas.”

The amount of water oil shale would consume isn’t known, the government says, because there’s not enough information about the kind of technology that could be used to extract oil shale. But the government expects surface water quality in the region to degrade, natural runoff patterns to be altered, hydrocarbons to contaminate surface and ground water in some areas and a possible reduction or complete loss of water flow into some domestic wells.

The government also projects a dramatic loss in wildlife habitat where oil shale is developed, and habitat for 14 threatened and endangered species could be destroyed.

“What you’re describing to me sounds like a natural catastrophe on the scale of a meteor impact,” Western Colorado Congress President Bill Grant said. “You’re sacrificing a large chunk of western Colorado to oil shale. Is there no alternative to this total destruction to western Colorado?”

Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis, a member of the Department of Energy’s Strategic Unconventional Fuels Task Force, said he is not surprised about the impact oil shale development would have on the Western Slope.

“If oil shale happens, it certainly displaces the development of natural gas,” he said. “The oil shale is going to have to pick up where natural gas is going to have to decline.”

He said the “time, price and inconvenience” of oil shale development will tell whether the benefits of oil shale are worth its side effects.

“We’re at the point of asking the question, ‘Where are we going to get this energy resource from?’ ” Meis said. “If not from this, then from what other resource? ... I can’t say it’s worth it. That’s a decision we’re going to have to make as a country, how we’re going to do with or without energy in the future. It’s a tough question.”

The release of the environmental impact statement kicks off a 90-day public comment period on the document. Paper copies will be available at the Grand Junction BLM field office, 2815 H Road today.