BLM Releases Oil Shale draft PEIS

Early on February 3, BLM released its draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for oil shale (and tar sands).   BLM analyzes the allocation decision it made in 2008.  The 2008 plan was to commercially lease 2 million acres (slightly less than the size of Yellowstone National Park).  In the BLM’s preferred alternative, 2(b),  oil shale federal public lands in Colorado would continue to be open only for RD&D at this time pending proof of viable technologies and a clear understanding of impacts re development of the oil shale resource.  BLM is not committing to larege-scale commercial development now. It states, “…The BLM would like to maintain focus on RD&D projects, so as to obtain more information about the technological requirements for development of this resources, as well as the environmental implications, before committing to broad-scale commercial development.  For instance, the BLM looks forward to gaining a clearer understanding of the implications of development of oil shale for water quality and quantity.”

CWF believes BLM should select its preferred alternative 2(b) that requires research results before commercial leasing.  We have pressed for this result for several months and perhaps our work in concert with that of others, helped.  Technology for developing oil shale commercially in Colorado’s Piceance Basin (northwest Colorado) has not been shown by companies that hold the 2008 round1 RD&D leases. In addition, water use estimates are necessary.  It would be very unwise to grant commercial leases before the technology is in place to develop oil shale and before decisions can be made as to water use impact based on solid estimates.  Water estimates vary widely and are speculative;  a common one is that to produce 1 barrel from oil shale, 3 barrels of water would be required. Without demonstration, impacts cannot be estimated or evaluated.  How much unallocated Colorado water would be required??  Until such demonstration and evaluation, commercial leasing makes no sense. We also know that whatever acreage is used for oil shale development will destroy the surface for wildlife habitat. The largest mule deer herd, numbering approximately 60,000, relies on the Piceance Basin. The herd is sustainable IF we take care of the Piceance habitat. The Piceance already is experiencing extensive gas leasing and development of 2000-2500 wells with a projected 15,000 wells in the next 20 years. As former big game manager and CWF member John Ellenberger who lives on the West Slope notes, “Habitat degradation in the Piceance is beginning to occur now and will continue on the horizon.”  Commercial leasing at this point would simply tie up more federal public lands for no public benefit – only a benefit to companies’ asset side of their balance sheets.

Public comment period runs through May 4. Link to the OIl Shale and Tar Sands Programmatic EIS: