BLM Plans for Oil Shale Mining


The Bureau of Land Management is setting aside public land for the commercial development of oil shale, although a commercially viable process to extract the oil does not exist. PhotobucketThe Green River Formation in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado has the most oil shale development potential in the United States. The richest concentration of oil shale in Colorado lies in the Piceance Basin, between Meeker, Rifle, Parachute and Grand Junction.

Dictated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the BLM was given the task to produce a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement to guide the management of BLM public lands containing oil shale and tar sands resources. The impact statement study also addresses the impacts from oil shale mining on local communities and identifies areas with other natural resources that might need special protection. 

In the draft impact statement, the BLM’s favored plan proposes to allocate approximately 1.9 million acres of public lands in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming for potential commercial oil shale development.

With the public comment period ending March 20, the BLM has been on the road with to explain the contents of the proposed 1,400-page study. On Thursday the BLM met with the BLM Northwest Colorado Resource Council in Glenwood Springs.

“The Energy Act says oil shale, tar sands and other unconventional fuel should be developed to increase domestic energy sources, so the BLM was directed to identify the lands most viable for oil shale production,” said Sherri Thompson, a BLM spokeswoman.  “We particularly have targeted land that could produce 25 gallons of oil per ton and has shale vein thickness is more than 25 feet deep.”

Briefly, the three BLM PEIS plan alternatives for oil shale development include:

(1) Alternative A – the no action alternative;

(2) Alternative B – designation of approximately 2 million acres of public lands for oil shale and 430,000 acres of public lands for tar sands as available for application for leasing; and

(3) Alternative C – designation of approximately 830,000 acres of public lands for oil shale and 230,000 acres of public lands for tar sands as available for application for leasing.

Out of the three options in the study, the BLM’s preferred Plan B maximizes the intent of the 2005 Energy Policy. It designates almost 2 million acres for oil shale mining,” Thompson explained to resource council members and the audience.

PhotobucketDan Becker from Silt told the group that he was philosophically against oil shale development: “I don’t see a benefit. It will strap local communities with problems that they have no control over.” He said he doubted oil shale would resolve long-term energy needs.

Thompson admitted it is difficult for the BLM to project all the impacts, since it is unknown what technology will be eventually used for the commercial development of oil shale. For instance, the in-situ process, heating the oil out of the shale rock below ground, is going to have a smaller industrial footprint than an above-ground strip-mining operation.

The final impact statement, with proposed life span of 20 years, will be wrapped up in December.

Council member Charlie Kerr said he was concerned that the BLM study time-frame is artificial,  especially when energy companies don’t foresee any immediate technological breakthroughs to make oil shale commercially viable.

“Wouldn’t it be better for the BLM to take more time to do more research before setting aside public land for oil shale development?” Kerr asked. “I’m concerned the political fervor for oil shale is way ahead of scientific reasoning.”

For information about how to make public comments on the BLM’s proposed study, go here.

Photos by Leslie Robinson. Top: Oil shale, the rock that burns. Middle photo: Map of oil shale areas under review. Dark blue areas are the richest deposits. Bottom: Block of oil enriched shale and a “can of energy,” a promotional gimmick from the 1970’s

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Leslie Robinson

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