Baking soda producer seeking oil shale lease

A Rio Blanco County baking-soda producer has emerged as a candidate for a federal oil shale research and development lease in Colorado.

The Bureau of Land Management on Wednesday identified Natural Soda Inc., ExxonMobil and Arizona-based AuraSource Inc. as the three companies to apply for a second round of the leases. ExxonMobil and AuraSource stepped forward earlier this week to say they had applied. ExxonMobil wants a Colorado lease, and AuraSource is seeking one in Utah.

Natural Soda is a major producer of baking soda. Its plant in the Piceance Creek area is used to produce pure sodium bicarbonate by injecting hot water into deposits of the mineral nahcolite.

The company holds long-term nahcolite leases on private lands, and some of those leases also contain significant oil shale deposits, according to a 2007 Department of Energy report on oil shale. The new federal leases would be for 160 acres, potentially expandable to 640 acres for commercial development.

The BLM is requiring that where nahcolite also exists, oil shale lease applications must show the potential ability to extract both nahcolite and oil, or extract one while preserving the other for future recovery.

Natural Soda applied for an oil shale R&D lease the last time the government offered them but was rejected.

The company could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The Energy Department report said Natural Soda’s nahcolite leases are adjacent to federal oil shale leases held by Shell, and near one held by Chevron. It said Natural Soda had partnered with an international private equity group, Sentient, and they were working on pursuing a new technology for developing oil shale in-situ, or in place in the ground.

Natural Soda expects to benefit from its extensive experience in directional and horizontal drilling, which it uses in its soda operations, the Department of Energy said.

The BLM decided to offer a second round of leasing after hearing interest from companies. Based on that interest, it had expected to receive four applications, BLM spokesman Matt Spangler said.

It received 20 applications for its first round of leases. Industry representatives say at least part of the drop-off in interest may be because those leases allowed for possible expansion to more than 5,000 acres rather than 640.


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