Oil shale views clash as symposium goes to Garfield County

BATTLEMENT MESA —From the standpoint of some people viewing things from afar, Colorado shouldn’t get in the way of development of its world-class oil shale deposits.

Some locals staring at the prospect of a revived oil shale industry take a more cautious view. They’re anxious to ensure that any development occurs in a way that minimizes the impacts.

The contrast between those views was evident as a week-long oil shale symposium presented by the Colorado School of Mines ended with two days of field trips to the region and a meeting Friday, when participants from around the world heard from local officials.

Garfield County oil and gas liaison Judy Jordan and Garfield County Re-2 School District finance director Christy Hamrick told their audience there is a need to ensure money is provided up front to address effects of oil shale development on roads, schools and housing, particularly if it comes on top of the area’s existing natural gas development boom.

Hamrick said she is especially concerned about the fact that much of the oil shale development could occur in Rio Blanco County. That means much of the tax revenue would be collected there, even though many of the workers probably would live in Garfield County, resulting in continuing growth in student enrollment in her school district.

“That is something we’re going to have to have a lot of conversation … about,” she said.

North Dakota resident Dwight Kinzer, who holds patents for developing oil shale underground using radio frequency energy, told Hamrick that northwest Colorado is home to a trillion barrels of oil that is needed for national security reasons.

“I’m sorry for the locals. I’m a Westerner myself. But this oil has got to be developed,” he said.

Yuval Bartov, a former School of Mines professor now working in the oil shale industry in his native Israel, thinks shale development won’t pick up until the natural gas industry begins to move out. He and Kinzer question what they consider to be opposition by the state of Colorado to the development of shale resources here.

Citing a need to be able to adequately analyze impacts, the state has objected to the federal government’s efforts to fast-track commercial oil shale development on public lands.

Michele Thomas, supervisor of oil shale research for ExxonMobil, suggested a need to find common ground between industry and affected communities.

“I think we all need to have an understanding of how we can move forward in a way that everybody benefits,” she said.


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