Oil shale critics voice views ahead of hearing today

Photo by Dean Humphrey—Renewable-energy consultant Randy Udall, standing, and Chris Herrman, Colorado Plateau land protection coordinator for Trout Unlimited, were among speakers Tuesday during an oil shale meeting in Grand Junction set up by a Boulder environmental organization.

Congressmen conducting a field hearing today on oil shale need to keep in mind the rock they’re discussing has defied a century’s worth of efforts to squeeze oil from stone, skeptics said Tuesday.

Four Grand Valley residents voiced concern in a news conference about the apparent goal of the congressional field oversight hearing being conducted at 9 a.m. today at Grand Junction City Hall.

U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton and Doug Lamborn, both Colorado Republicans, are conducting the hearing, called “American Jobs and Energy Security:  Domestic Oil Shale, the Status of Research, Regulation and Roadblocks.”

Tipton’s 3rd Congressional District includes the richest of the country’s oil shale deposits.

“The rock is the primary barrier” to the development of oil shale, Palisade resident Tom Phillips, a retired gas and oil industry engineer, said.

Phillips and others spoke at an event sponsored by Resource Media, a Boulder-based coordinator of environmental efforts.

Development of oil shale could do further damage to the native waters of the Colorado River cutthroat trout, which already has lost 86 percent of its historic range, said Chris Herrman, Colorado Plateau land protection coordinator for Trout Unlimited.

Some of the remaining waters are in oil shale country in northwest Colorado, Herrman said, urging decision makers to keep in mind the fate of the cold-water fisheries, such as that of the cutthroat, as they consider what to do with oil shale.

“We don’t want to destroy what remains of the 14 percent of historic habitat” for the cutthroat, Herrman said.

More than trout is at stake in the debate over oil shale, said Benita Phillips, a registered nurse from Palisade. Development of oil shale could threaten clean air, water and food, she said.

“Oil shale could put the human race at risk” in western Colorado, she said.

The mule deer herd in the Piceance Basin has lost 40 percent of the numbers tallied in the 1980s, said John Ellenberger, a retired Colorado Division of Wildlife biologist.

Not all of that reduction is related to the development of natural gas on the same lands that overlay the world’s most significant deposits of oil shale, Ellenberger said. Most of that is the result of unfavorable weather patterns, from drought to cold winters, but the mule deer population has been rendered less resilient than it would have been otherwise, he said.

Although even the most optimistic supporters of oil shale development say production is a decade or more away, “We in western Colorado need to get up to speed” on the research and development into oil shale, said Randy Udall, former director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, which is based in Aspen.

Oil shale “is the world’s most misunderstood resource” Udall said. “It’s been 10 to 15 years away for a century.”


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