County joins in opposition to new oil shale review

Craig Meis
Craig Meis, Mesa County Commissioner

Mesa County commissioners have joined in a regional effort opposing a new federal environmental review they believe could curtail oil shale development.

The three commissioners voted unanimously to approve a resolution calling on the Bureau of Land Management to halt plans to prepare a new environmental impact statement for oil shale and tar sand resources in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

“Mesa County has a long history of working closely with our federal agencies — including the BLM — and will still support the agency’s 2008 environmental impact statement for our area. We do not support revamping the process to put more restrictions on energy development on BLM lands in our area,” said Commissioner Craig Meis.

Mesa County has joined with a total of 10 other counties in the three states to oppose a new review of the potential environmental affects of leasing BLM land for oil shale and tar sands development. The BLM has published a notice of its intent to prepare a new Oil Shale and Tar Sands Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (OSTS PEIS).

Janet Rowland
Janet Rowland, Mesa County Commissioner

Under the preferred alternative in the draft statement, the BLM would remove from consideration for leasing lands identified as containing wilderness characteristics, substantially reducing the what’s available for development.

An analysis completed in 2008 made a total of about 2 million acres of public lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming available for potential leasing and development of oil shale and another 430,000 acres available for development of tar sands.

“We feel the 2008 analysis — which took three years to complete — was very thorough and took into account local and state input,” said Commissioner Janet Rowland. “The preferred alternative in this new federal process aims to add restrictions to oil shale development that would have serious negative impact on our local economy.”

The resolution states: “The preferred alternative in the draft 2012 OSTS PEIS drastically shrinks, diminishes and in many areas outright reverses virtually all of the lands made available for oil shale and tar sands development in 2008 and does so using the same data and science.”

Steve Aquafresca, Mesa County Commissioner
Steve Aquafresca, Mesa County Commissioner

The resolution calls the preferred alternative in the draft 2012 PEIS a “creature of a friendly lawsuit settlement agreement between the BLM and ideological opponents to oil shale development” — a predetermined decision made with “no apparent rationale for revising the acreages approved in 2008.”

The resolution also calls the renewed planning under the 2012 PEIS an effort to carry out the provisions of a Dec. 10, 2010  order issued by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in violation of subsequent congressional spending moratoriums against using federal funds to implement that order.

In addition, the resolution calls the reduction in lands available for oil shale and tar sands development under the preferred alternative in the draft 2012 PEIS a violation of requirements of certainty for industry and investors, federal planning processes and federal energy policy.

The resolution calls on the BLM to halt further work on the 2012 PEIS. But if the agency continues to move forward with the planning process, the resolution recommends that a no-action alternative be selected since it would be identical to the alternative chosen in the 2008 statement.

The Mesa County commissioners also emphasized the potential significance of oil shale and tar sand deposits in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

There’s more oil shale in the United States than the rest of the world combined, and the richest deposits of all are located in the three states. By one estimate, oil shale and tar sands resources in the Green River Formation in the three states contain the equivalent of 4 trillion barrels of oil.

The resolution asserts that technology to extract oil from oil shale is not only economically feasible, but also requires little to no consumption of water and produces more energy than it consumes.

Oil shale and tar sand reserves are important to the United States as well as the region, the Mesa County commissioners said.

“The thoughtful and carefully regulated exploration and development of oil shale reserves is a vital component of energy development for our country and our local area,” Meis said.

Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said: “Mesa County is a regional economic hub for Western Colorado and Eastern Utah. As local government representatives, we want to make sure our local economy, environment and quality of life are taken into consideration when these important decisions are made.”