BLM hears polar views on oil shale

RIFLE — What the government is calling a fresh look at past federal oil shale development decisions is reigniting longstanding debates over the resource’s potential for helping meet the nation’s energy needs, and what negative impacts might result.

“There’s tons of energy right there, and it’s going to help America,” Rifle resident Matt Monger said Tuesday in Rifle about the world-class oil shale reserves in northwest Colorado.

He was one of dozens of speakers to offer input Tuesday in one of a series of public meetings the Bureau of Land Management is holding as it reconsiders its past decision allocating 1.9 million acres for possible commercial oil shale leasing development and another 431,224 acres for potential tar sands leasing and development.

New Castle resident Greg Russi questioned the wisdom of commercial-scale oil shale projects, saying projections that they would require two barrels of water for every barrel of oil developed is an “unreasonable amount for moderate gain.”

Garfield County Assessor Jim Yellico said he would be excited to see oil shale development as a means of helping diversify the economy and increase the tax base. But he said it also would be helpful for the BLM to help lay out the truth about things such as how much water and energy the industry actually would need.

In an interview, Ken Neubecker of Carbondale-based nonprofit organization Western Rivers Institute said the point of the government’s existing oil shale research-and-development lease program is to get answers to such questions. Until then, he said, it’s premature to make decisions about commercial leasing on federal lands.

Jim Cagney, district manager in northwest Colorado for the BLM, said Tuesday he thinks his agency can respond to the challenge about better establishing the facts surrounding oil shale. He agreed that some of that information is in flux as research and development projects continue.

Alan Burnham, chief technology officer for American Shale Oil LLC, which holds a federal R&D lease, said new technologies for developing oil shale in place underground differ from traditional processes involving mining and retorting shale. That means a need for fewer employees, which also means fewer impacts on communities, he said.

AMSO is pursuing plans to produce 100,000 barrels of oil per day with a few hundred workers, he said.

“There are enough homes in foreclosure in Rifle today to accommodate our workforce,” he said.


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