Utah governor says state is ‘open for business’ for oil shale development

GOLDEN — A U.S. Interior Department official Monday defended, and Utah’s governor supported, the federal government’s push to remove regulatory hurdles to commercial oil shale development on public land.

Foster Wade, deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals for the Interior Department, and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, spoke at a Colorado School of Mines oil shale symposium attended by some 350 people from around the world.

Wade said the Bureau of Land Management’s efforts on oil shale come in response to the gap between the nation’s energy needs and supplies.

“We have an energy demand that we are unable to meet at this point in time. We need to be working on all fuel energy in order to try to make up that deficit,” he said.

Huntsman said his state holds an estimated 77 billion barrels of recoverable oil shale. A Republican, he urged the Interior Department to move forward with issuing commercial leasing regulations before a new presidential administration takes over in January.

“My bottom line to you is, we in our state are open for business” for oil shale development, Huntsman told the symposium audience, which included numerous industry representatives.

But Harris Sherman, executive director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, reiterated Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter’s view that the Bush administration is moving too quickly toward commercial oil shale development.

Sherman said that will undercut the abilities of the state and local governments to deal with questions surrounding potential development.

Sherman said Colorado has 500 billion to a trillion barrels of recoverable oil shale, which “could hold great promise for the nation’s energy future.”

But the BLM has proceeded to designate lands for potential commercial leasing, and is developing rules for that leasing, before energy companies have determined what technologies they will use to develop oil shale.

That has made it impossible to evaluate possible impacts on water quantity and quality, wildlife, air quality, and tourism and recreation, Sherman said.

It also would create additional infrastructure demands on communities in northwest Colorado, which is in the middle of a natural gas development boom and already faces a projected doubling of its population over the next 30 years, Sherman said.

“If you add oil shale to this, that is a game-changer,” he said.

Wade said two more levels of environmental review would be needed before commercial leasing could occur.

He said energy companies need to know leasing rules before they can invest a lot of money in oil
shale.

Terry O’Connor, vice president of external and regulatory affairs for Shell, which has three federal research, demonstration and development leases in Rio Blanco County, said there is no risk to the government in establishing regulations, “because they don’t authorize anything. All they do is set out rules of the road.”


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