BLM’s go-slow approach is right way to handle oil shale

For over a century, people have been trying to unlock the oil shale reserves in the western United States. During the past decade, companies from around the globe have been working to develop technology that will successfully turn this rock into a useable fuel, and promises of a great future in oil shale have been ever-present.

Recently, the Bureau of Land Management released its plan to manage oil shale on public lands, just as debate swelled regarding the PIONEERS Act, and the fact remains the same: The technology has yet to be proven on a commercial scale.

The BLM’s approach toward future development of oil shale makes sense: Promote continued research and development of oil shale so that we can continue to develop the technology that may someday prove commercially successful. At the same time, use this research and development phase to better understand the impacts of development of oil shale, especially to local communities.

It’s a common-sense approach to a resource that is not yet bringing revenues. We have the luxury to figure out what the impacts might be and put together a plan for mitigation ahead of time, rather than chasing oil shale development at the back end when it’s too late.

As local elected officials around the Western Slope have been echoing over the past few weeks in discussions about the recently introduced PIONEERS Act expediting oil shale development, the potential impacts to local communities could be significant.

Those of us who lived through the oil shale bust of the 1980s can remember the devastating impacts to our communities that lasted nearly a decade. From increased pressures on roads and highways, to infrastructure improvements that must accompany increased population growth and decrease, to additional pressures on already stressed water supplies, there are a lot of things to take into consideration with a commercial-scale oil shale industry.

It is vital that the proper studies are conducted before we put the West’s water, communities and wildlife at risk. Furthermore, if these technologies can prove to be commercially viable, we recommend that an oil shale impact fund, similar to the one created during the last commercial attempt, must be established to buffer the negative impacts of this boom-and-bust resource.

Those of us in local government also know it is important to remove unnecessary impediments to job development and revenue generation. We need jobs and revenue, and we need them now.

But, while oil shale is not providing any federal revenues and very few jobs now, we can take the opportunity to make sure we protect tens of thousands of existing jobs in ranching, farming, tourism, outdoor recreation and even natural gas and other extractive industries.

We should be careful that oil shale speculation does not come at the expense of existing jobs in already-active and sustaining industries that are vital to the economic well-being of the region. It is also important to continue to develop solar, wind and other renewable energy technologies across our state.

We are all in favor of good jobs, energy independence and a more promising future. Seeking definitive answers to important questions about local impacts should not been seen as a roadblock to oil shale development but instead as necessary planning to ensure an economic future.

We need to develop a “no regrets” strategy that avoids the mistakes of the past that and assures people that local communities are prepared and adequately funded to deal with associated impacts of oil shale development.

That’s precisely what the Bureau of Land Management is proposing to do in its oil shale plan released this month. If oil shale development moves forward, it must do so in a way that does not compromise existing economic drivers and our treasured way of life in northwest Colorado, northeast Utah and southeast Wyoming.


Bennett Boeschenstein is a member of the Grand Junction City Council and Ken Brenner is the former president of the Steamboat Springs City Council.


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