Finish oil shale research first, poll says

Nearly three-quarters of Garfield County residents favor that companies working in oil shale should complete successful research before beginning commercial production, a poll taken in September shows.

The Denver-based Checks and Balances Project released the responses Monday as a rejoinder to a press conference in which several organizations urged the Bureau of Land Management to return to the 2008 oil shale-development plan that opened up to 2 million acres of public lands for commercial oil shale leasing in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming

Checks and Balances said its poll of 405 registered voters in Garfield County showed 74 percent favoring more oil shale research and suggests that the U.S. Interior Department’s approach to oil shale development on public lands “resonates with registered voters in the county.”

Checks and Balances commissioned a Democratic-leaning polling firm, Peak Campaigns, and Republican-leaning Bellwether Research & Consulting to conduct the poll.

The survey, said Club 20 Executive Director Bonnie Petersen, misses that point.

“Club 20 has always strongly supported the (research, demonstration and development) approach to oil shale development,” Petersen said.

Reducing the acreage in which companies could work on oil shale, as proposed in the environmental study being pursued by the administration of President Barack Obama, restricts experimentation to “one technology, which may or may not be the best technology for development of this resource,” Petersen said.

The preferred alternative of the Bureau of Land Management in the current study calls for reducing the amount of land available in Colorado from 346,000 acres to 35,000.

The bureau in August approved two 10-year leases for research, demonstration and development to ExxonMobil Exploration Co. and Natural Soda Holdings Inc. to test technologies that heat solid oil shale underground to convert it into recoverable liquid petroleum without disturbing the surface.

Royal Dutch Shell already is working three leases and Genie Energy a fourth.

All of the experimental leases are in nearby Rio Blanco County.

Checks and Balances noted that support for completing successful research before commercial development was particularly strong in Rifle, which sits in the shadow of the state’s richest oil shale resources.

In Rifle, 81 percent of respondents favored more experiment before commercial development, followed by 79 percent in New Castle and Silt, and 76 percent in Parachute and De Beque, which is in Mesa County.

The surveyed voters included 134 Republicans, 97 Democrats and the rest unaffiliated or affiliated to minor parties.

More than three-quarters of Republicans, 77 percent, and 64 percent of Democrats and 78 percent of unaffiliated voters supported holding off on commercial development until experiments are complete.


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