Four groups endorse Bush-era drilling option

The Obama administration should reach the same conclusion that the Bush administration did and open some 2 million acres of land in the West to oil shale development, four organizations said Thursday.

An environmental study now under way lists the preferred alternative as one that would allow development of oil shale on 462,000 acres in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, where the world’s largest concentrations of oil shale are found.

The Bush administration study completed in 2008 opened up 2 million acres in the three states to development. In Colorado, which contains the thickest part of the formation, the Obama “preferred alternative” would reduce the amount of acreage available from 346,000 acres to 35,000.

The largest number of organizations commenting on the study, known as a programmatic environmental impact statement, preferred the Bush administration approach, Brad McCloud of Environmentally Conscious Consumers for Oil Shale said Thursday at a press conference.

The Bureau of Land Management, which is conducting the study, “should listen to the people and listen to the statements they’ve made twice now” and support the plans laid out by the Bush administration, McCloud said.

Critics of commercial oil shale development said support for opening larger amounts of land for development isn’t quite as cut and dried.

“I suspect they’re not being quite honest” with the numbers, Matthew Garrington of the Denver-based Checks and Balances Project said. In any case, “They’re ignoring thousands and thousands of comments” from individuals, Garrington said.

Representatives of ECCOS, Club 20, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and the Mesa County Commission said a tally of organizations, including environmental and industry groups, showed 45 supporting the Bush administration approach and none supporting the Obama administration’s preferred alternative. Twenty-five organizations split their recommendations among four other alternatives.

“This isn’t our first rodeo with oil shale,” said Diane Schwenke, president of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, calling for additional research and development into the deposits of the Green River Formation.

Industry needs to do a lot more work before it moves into commercial development as envisioned in the Bush administration approach, Garrington said.

“It makes complete sense that oil shale companies should do their homework first before we allow commercial oil shale speculation,” Garrington said.

Reducing the amount of land available for experimentation could “squeeze it down to the point that a private business would be very hesitant” to invest in experimentation, Schwenke said.

Foot-dragging by the federal government, which administers most of the land in western Colorado, including 72 percent of Mesa County, “is our biggest roadblock to economic development,” Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis said.


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