51,685 commenters weigh in on BLM’s oil-shale lease plans

The federal government received 51,685 comments in connection with its plans to issue a second round of oil shale leases in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

The Bureau of Land Management discussed the comments in a Federal Register notice published Tuesday to solicit applications for the research, development and demonstration leases.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the new lease offerings in October. The Obama administration previously had withdrawn a lease offering by the Bush administration and sought comments on a new lease program.

Bobby McEnaney, public lands advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said more than 25,000 of the comments came from his group, reflecting members’ concern about what oil shale development might mean for the country.

“Our members care quite a bit about how public lands are going to be used in the future,” he said.

In general, the BLM said, environmental groups indicated no more leases should be issued until the results from the first round of leases are known and the BLM completes a full environmental review of them.

The BLM said academia suggested additional research and development leases are needed, especially to test a low-temperature process that wouldn’t impact water supplies.

Agencies at local, state and even federal levels generally said that because the BLM already has implemented a number of provisions to promote oil shale based on the 2005 Energy Policy Act, it shouldn’t make more land available for leasing. However, Utah officials repeatedly have voiced strong support for the oil shale industry.

Colorado has said before new leasing is considered, there should be a “mid-term review” of progress by companies owning the first leases.

The BLM said the energy industry generally called for the new leases to include enough acres to allow expansion into potential commercial operations, and the industry voiced concern that the royalty rate would be too high to encourage investment.

The first leases — five in Colorado and one in Utah — give the leaseholders the ability to potentially expand 160-acre research and development leases to 5,120-acre commercial leases. The new proposal would limit the expansion to 640 acres.

Jeremy Boak, director of the industry-funded Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research at the Colorado School of Mines, said he’s happy to see the new administration proceeding with new leases.

But he questioned reducing the size of the commercial lease acreage option.

“I think it’s clear that what’s being offered doesn’t show a lot of enthusiasm for this technology,” Boak said.


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