Garfield protests BLM’s shale plan

Arguing it failed to take technological advances into account, Garfield County is challenging a finalized federal government proposal slashing potentially available acreage for oil shale leasing in Colorado to a small fraction of its current amount.

County commissioners Tuesday agreed to file a formal protest of a revised Bureau of Land Management proposal that would make about 26,000 acres open for application for oil shale leasing in Colorado. That compares to about 360,000 acres made available in 2008 and about 35,000 acres in the BLM’s draft proposal earlier this year.

Across Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, the BLM is proposing making about 677,000 acres available for leasing application, down from about 2 million acres.

In Colorado, what are considered the world’s richest oil shale deposits are centered in Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.

Besides the protest, Garfield commissioners are filing a request for review of the BLM plan under the Information Quality Act. They say its current plan is based on an outdated 2008 study, and fails to consider subsequent technological improvements that have significantly reduced the water requirements associated with oil shale development and increased the amount of energy produced compared to what’s consumed in the process.

Garfield County also disputes the federal government’s contention that oil shale has yet to be proved commercially viable, citing work being done by companies such as Red Leaf Resources in Utah. Commissioner John Martin said the BLM’s actions to protect lands with wilderness characteristics under its revised shale plan also go against a congressional directive prohibiting spending federal money on that purpose.

The BLM also removed significant Colorado acreage to protect habitat for the greater sage-grouse to try to keep it from being listed as a threatened or endangered species.

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said oil shale can be developed responsibly while benefiting Garfield, Rio Blanco and Mesa counties through jobs and revenue.

“It’s a resource that’s there and it’s available for our county and it’s available for the United States of America,” he said.

BLM spokesman David Boyd said the agency will respond to the county’s protest and any others after having a chance to thoroughly review them.

Members of the public differed on the BLM’s plan and the county’s opposition to it Tuesday.

“I just think there’s less harm done by a slow approach to development as opposed to a boomtown approach,” said Deb Dawson.

Floyd Diemoz said the reduced acreage would discourage oil shale investment.

“Do you put ... hundreds of millions of dollars into the resource and then have the government say, sorry, but we do not allow you to go into those other areas?” he asked.

Garfield County commissioners also had opposed the BLM’s draft acreage reduction proposal. But they later rescinded that action after being sued by citizen groups over their violation of Colorado open-meetings law when they participated with other counties in a closed-door meeting in Utah to strategize opposition to the plan.

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