By Craig Hall
On February 15, 2012 at the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) presented its Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) as it relates to Oil Shale and Tar Sand Resources in the West to members of the Chamber and local media. According to the BLM, this purpose of the report was to reassess the use of leases and potential development in the area and from that assessment the BLM has decided to amend 10 current land use plans currently in action as the result of a similar PEIS made only three years prior. Additionally, the BLM indicated that Mesa County had not taken the time to establish itself as one of “cooperating agencies” regarding the ongoing commenting period, as the county did not respond to requests from the BLM for input.
Of first concern is the dramatic reduction of the amount of land under consideration for possible development which under the BLM’s recommendation would be reduced by nearly by nearly 75% overall for oil shale (over 90% in Colorado) and almost 80% in the region for tar sand development.
“The fact is, just because land is designated as a potential property for research or drilling activity doesn’t mean that any of the kind will occur on that land,” said Diane Schwenke of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, “This is simply an identification process. A complete environmental assessment would need to happen on any future lease so that acreage with significant environmentally sensitive issues could be identified and removed from activity.”
Of additional concern is how the BLM came to its recommendation. “Of the 14 agencies the BLM took under advisement, none of them chose Alternative 2,” added Brad McCloud, executive director of Environmentally Conscious Consumers for Oil Shale, “The majority supported Alternative 1, which was to take no action.” McCloud added that he pressed the BLM representative for more clarification as to how the group came to its conclusion to recommend Alternative 2 but did not receive a clear-cut answer.
As for the county not being part of the cooperating agencies involved, County Commissioner Craig Meis said that could not be farther from the truth. “We were part of the previous administration’s PEIS process and we have been actively commenting since the onset of this new process,” Meis said, “Our comments and concerns have not changed since the new process began and we were fine with the last PEIS already in place. What is different in this case is that no amount of cooperative participation by any agency was going to change the outcome of this PEIS under this administration.” Meis added that the county is currently inundated with cooperating agency status for numerous federal programs, but that he is concerned that federal agencies are implementing a preservation policy unless the proposal has to do with renewable energy.
Of final note, local entities agree that their reactions are not directed towards the local public servants that work at the BLM or other government agencies. “We fully realize that this particular PEIS recommendation is not the work of the people we talk to on a regular basis, but it is one of many edicts of the current administration in Washington and its appointees,” says David Ludlam of the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, “But make no mistake, this is not an isolated decision as many of the Western Colorado projects we are involved in are having the same results. More important, what this administration is doing in pulling the rug out from under billions of dollars of investments from corporations is not going unnoticed in their boardrooms.”
Both Meis and McCloud agree that a tremendous amount of time, capital and effort are expended during PEIS type processes. “This is a huge burden on any community, especially in this economic environment,” says McCloud, “To have to go through the same process twice in a matter of a few years, when the solution on the first was supposed to be long term, is particularly hard on the federal government and the taxpayers in a time of limited resources in manpower and funding.”
“It’s frustrating to put time and effort into the process, particularly when the outcome seems to be already determined,” added Meis.
“After hearing the input of the cooperating agencies and their preferences on alternatives, we are very disappointed in the BLM’s proposed alternative at this stage of the process,” says Schwenke, “To take so much property off the table now is premature.”
“The feeling we have is that this is a ludicrous decision, particularly for investors, when our government takes action in this manner,” adds Ludlam.