BLM proposes to open 340,000 acres for Utah oil shale and tar sands research and development
The Bureau of Land Management has published the Notice of Availability of the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and Possible Land Use Amendments for Allocation of Oil Shale and Tar Sands Resources on Lands Administered by the BLM in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The publication opens a 90-day public review and comment period.
The Draft PEIS analyzes several alternatives for land allocation and resource management. The bureau says that under its Preferred Alternative identified in the Draft PEIS, the BLM would continue to support the research and development of hydrocarbon deposits in an environmentally responsible way that protects scarce water supplies.
If the BLM decides to adopt the Preferred Alternative, 461,965 acres would be available for research and development of oil shale, a kerogen-rich rock (35,308 acres in Colorado; 252,181 acres in Utah; and 174,476 acres in Wyoming). In addition, 91,045 acres in eastern Utah would be available for activities related to tar sands, a type of hydrocarbon-wet sedimentary deposit.
"The preferred alternative continues our commitment to encouraging research, development, and demonstration projects so that companies can develop technologies that can lead to economic and commercial viability," said BLM Director Bob Abbey. He said research and development would be a commonsense first step.
To date, technological and economic conditions have not combined to support a sustained commercial oil shale industry in the United States, and there is currently no commercial development of oil shale in the areas under review in the draft PEIS. Lands that would be open to oil shale development under the Preferred Alternative would be available for Research, Development, and Demonstration (RD&D) leases. Â The BLM could issue a commercial lease after a lessee satisfies the conditions of its RD&D lease and meets all federal regulations for conversion to a commercial lease.
Additionally, following the recommendations of the Government Accountability Office - which determined that several fundamental questions about oil shale technologies remain unanswered, including critical questions about water demands - the United States Geological Survey (USGS) is undertaking an analysis of baseline water resources conditions to improve the understanding of groundwater and surface water systems that could be affected by commercial-scale oil shale development.
The majority of U.S. oil shale (and the world's largest oil shale deposit) is found in the Green River Formation in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.
Tar sands are sedimentary rocks containing a heavy hydrocarbon compound called bitumen. They can be mined and processed to extract the oil-rich bitumen, which is then refined into oil.
Any new land allocation decisions made on the basis of the Final PEIS would replace the land allocation decisions made in 2008 that proposed making up to 2 million acres of public lands available for commercial oil shale leasing in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming and 431,000 acres available for tar sands leasing in Utah. Some Western communities argued that the 2008 PEIS and Record of Decision would have prematurely allowed commercial leasing without technologies having been proven viable and without a clear understanding of impacts on scarce Western water supplies. In response to those concerns and in settlement of litigation, the agency agreed to reconsider the 2008 land allocation decisions.
A 90-day public review and comment period is scheduled to end on May 4. Public meetings on the Draft PEIS will also be held in Rifle, CO; Rock Springs, WY; Salt Lake City; and Vernal. The public will be notified of the dates and times of these meetings at least 15 days in advance.