May 5, 2011
BLM held public scoping meetings on May 3 and May 4 in Rifle and in Denver, respectively, in its "process to take a fresh look" at commercial oil shale plans that were announced in 2008.
CWF made public comment --
Background: Secretary Salazar had announced the "fresh look" earlier this year at to the 2008 regulations. Under the 2008 regs, 2 million acres of western federal public lands would be open (eligible) for commercial oil shale leasing. BLM has published a Notice of Intent to Prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) governing oil shale resources on BLM lands in the Piceance Basin (and in Utah and Wyoming). In January 2007 BLM issued 5 RD&D (Research, Demonstration & Development) oil shale leases to 3 companies within the Piceance Basin including Shell. These lessees were granted the ability to expand their respective 160-acre leases to 5,120-acre commercial development leases after conversion from the RD&D status. A 2nd round of RD&D lease applications was solicited by Department of Interior on November 3, 2009. After submitting proposals, two companies were nominated - Natural Soda and ExxonMobil -- to conduct RD&D on 160-acre leases (which could be expanded to 640 acres upon meeting criteria set by Secretary Salazar). At this time, these nominations are going through the BLM legal process. The obvious question is why move forward at all with any commercial leasing before results of round 1 RD&D and round 2, assuming it goes forward, are forthcoming and demonstrate technical feasibility for commercial scale oil shale production, water use projections, etc. Our CWF position has been exactly that: it is premature to conduct any commercial development leasing. Water estimates continue to appear to be 3 barrels of water for each barrel of production. Companies consistently have stated that determining commercial feasibility is at least 20 years off. As you know, this also is very important wildlife habitat in the Piceance that has been leased extensively already for gas development. (CWF mapped mule deer severe winter range, elk winter concentration and severe winter range areas, and greater sage grouse ridge areas for our report on NW Colorado published in January 2010.) The number of future wellpads projected by gas companies in the Piceance Basin is alarming, exacerbating access issues, lack of quality experience in an industrialized zone, as well as destruction of habitat. Some companies have extensive private holdings in the Piceance. They claim that although within the oil shale formation, the private lands they own are in the thinner less promising areas. The US House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee majority intends to push for commercial leasing. Apparently, they do not view RD&D findings as a prerequisite.