Oil shale report angers Western Slope officials

“It would be devastating to above-ground trout fisheries,” Trout Unlimited spokesman Chris Hunt said. “They could be lost forever with this type of development.”

Friday, January 04, 2008

Unrealistic and there is too little time to respond.

Those are just two of the complaints some local government officials are leveling at the Bureau of Land Management regarding its draft report on the possible impacts of a commercial oil shale industry.

“If we’re worried about global warming, what’s this whole thought that we’re going to have to build a whole bevy of coal-fired power plants to extract oil shale resources?” Rio Blanco County Commissioner Ken Parsons said, adding the BLM created the report using unrealistic assumptions about oil shale companies’ technology and how it might impact the Western Slope.

The BLM’s draft Oil Shale and Tar Sands Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, issued in late December, paints a scenario of a radically changed Western Slope in the face of widespread commercial oil shale development in the Piceance Basin. However, the effects are possibly still decades away.

The report says oil shale would supplant all other uses of public land, have a dramatic impact on air and water quality and urbanize small towns, while bringing many thousands of new workers to the region.

The report says little about using other energy sources, such as natural gas, to power oil shale development, Parsons said.

The county hopes greater environmental awareness in the United States will be enough to encourage Congress to scrap the commercial oil shale program until energy companies can prove their technology works and the BLM’s oil shale research leasing program has run its course, he said.

Grand Junction Utilities Manager Greg Trainor said the scenarios outlined in the report don’t make sense because companies researching oil shale don’t know how or if they’ll extract it commercially.

The BLM’s public-comment period, which expires in March, isn’t enough time for cities with limited resources to respond to the 1,400-page report, he said.

Considering the report’s impact, “why are we being given only 90 days to comment on it?” Trainor said, calling the report “imposing.”

“It’s just going to take us a while to dig through this thing,” he said.

The report is proving tough to wade through for others, too. Royal Dutch Shell spokesman Tracy Boyd, state Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, and Club 20 Executive Director Reeves Brown all declined to comment on the report because they had not finished reading it.

Environmental groups praised the BLM for being thorough in its account of how oil shale will “devastate” the region.

“It would be devastating to above-ground trout fisheries,” Trout Unlimited spokesman Chris Hunt said. “They could be lost forever with this type of development.”

He said the report shows oil shale development will create an industrial zone out of northwest Colorado and defy the BLM’s mandate for allowing multiple uses of public land.

Wilderness Society Assistant Regional Director Steve Smith called oil shale’s potential impacts outlined in the report “overwhelming” and harmful to the region’s water and energy supply and air quality.

“We are not enhancing our energy security if we are burning up energy resources of one type to produce energy resources of another type,” Smith said. “It would not make us more secure. It would make our whole energy mix much more brittle than it is.”