Coalition asks BLM to limit oil shale development

DENVER – A group of 16 conservation organizations asked the Bureau of Land Management to adopt the most restrictive option for oil shale and tar sands research and development in the West.

The groups presented the recommendation Friday, the deadline to submit formal comments to the bureau on its draft environmental impact statement, according to Western Resource Advocates. The Boulder-based environmental group joined the Sierra Club, Colorado Environmental Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council and others to oppose oil shale and tar sands development.

“No lands should be allocated for commercial development until completion of research, including but not limited to federal research, design and demonstration (RD&D) leases, and an analysis of the impacts,” reads the groups’ recommendation.

Oil shale can be mined and processed to produce oil similar to that pumped from conventional oil wells. But technological and economic conditions cannot currently support a sustained commercial oil shale industry, according to the bureau.

The bureau has proposed to lease more than 460,000 acres for research and development of oil shale in three states. The proposal would allow R&D activity on more than 35,000 acres in Colorado, 250,000 acres in Utah and 174,000 acres in Wyoming in an “environmentally responsible way that protects scarce water supplies,” the bureau said.

“Because there are still many unanswered questions about the technology, water use and impacts of potential commercial-scale oil shale development, we are proposing a prudent and orderly approach that could facilitate significant improvements to technology needed for commercial-scale activity,” bureau Director Bob Abbey previously said.

Environmentalists contend that large-scale oil shale development on the Western Slope would put pressure on tight water supplies. They asked the bureau to adopt its most restrictive alternative, which makes a limited number of acres available for development until further research is completed.

“It makes no sense whatsoever to risk extensive environmental damage of public lands on a technology that doesn’t exist,´ said Bobby McEnaney of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Oil and gas industry representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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