Rifle residents express concern over oil shale drilling expansion
RIFLE – A public meeting hosted by the Bureau of Land Management last week drew nearly 100 people who wanted to know more about the agency’s environmental impact study, which analyzed the potential impacts of commercial oil shale leasing.People expressed concern about air and water quality, the problems that could come with thousands of workers moving into the county and the potential addition of coal-fired power plants to heat the shale.Randy Udall, of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency in Aspen, said oil shale is not the great energy resource it’s made out to be.”Oil shale is the most misunderstood fossil fuel on the planet,” he said. With about one-seventh the energy content of coal and one-tenth of petroleum, there’s a reason it hasn’t been developed in the past.”Oil shale promises so much and delivers so little,” he said.The BLM has been holding public meetings on its programmatic EIS for oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.Oil shale could provide the United States with its full quota of oil demand for 100 years, said Kent Walter, field manager for the BLM White River Field Office in Meeker.Oil shale deposits in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are the world’s richest and largest, amounting to approximately 2 trillion barrels, said Jim Edwards, BLM branch chief for solid minerals. Of that, 1.2 trillion barrels are trapped in the Piceance Basin.This week, the BLM announced its selection of eight companies which have applied for research and development leases in the three states. Eight were chosen, and six of them applied to lease 160-acre tracts in southern Rio Blanco County, about 25 to 30 miles southwest of Meeker. Those companies will also be given an preferential right to expand their leases to 4,960-acre commercial leases.Congress mandated commercialization of oil shale, as well as tar sands in northeastern Utah, when it passed the Energy Policy Act this year. The act calls for commercial leasing by 2008.The BLM is also required by the act to set regulations for leasing six months after a record of decision is issued adopting the oil shale EIS.Already at work in the Piceance is Shell Oil, which is developing an in-situ, or in-place, process that heats the shale until the oil or kerogen until it is liquefied then pumped to the surface.Three of the six companies selected for research leases, including Shell, have said they will pursue the in-situ process.Many of those who stood up to comment Wednesday expressed concern over the potential energy demands for the heating process.Udall said 10 coal-fired power plants will be needed in the Piceance Basin to bring the oil out of the ground.”The environmental impacts will be devastating,” he said.Shell, for its part, will go to a larger scale of research with the new research lease, expanding its five-acre Mahogany Research Project currently running on its own property in the Piceance, Shell spokeswoman Jill Davis said.”Commercial oil shale venture can only work if it is economically viable, environmentally sound and socially sustainable,” she said.A few who worked in the oil shale industry during the boom and bust of the 1970s and ’80s also spoke out at the meeting.Oil shale represents “a huge domestic resource” that will help the country decrease its reliance on imported oil that now stands at 60 percent, said Gary Aho of Rifle. Aho who worked for Cleveland Cliffs, which developed the Colony and Anvil Points oil shale mines in Garfield County. “Our major untapped resources for transportation fuel are coal and oil shale,” he said.
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