The United States government has taken several major steps forward in opening tar sands and oil shale reserves located on federal lands in eastern Utah to commercial leasing and future development.
In the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress directed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to complete a programmatic environmental impact statement to support the commercial leasing of strategic unconventional fuels on federal parcels in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.
U.S. lawmakers designed the act to increase domestic fuel production and ensure the nation's energy security, pointed out the federal land management agency.
Complying with the congressional directive, the BLM published a notice of intent initiating the PEIS process and setting a public comment period regarding the scope of the programmatic environmental impact statement in the Dec. 13 Federal Register.
The PEIS will cover oil shale resources in the Uintah Basin and tar sands reserves on the Colorado Plateau in southeastern Utah, including federal public lands in the Carbon County area.
The BLM will accept written and electronic comments related to the scoping process that are postmarked or delivered by Jan. 31, 2006.
In addition, the federal agency has scheduled a series of public scoping meetings to obtain input from interested parties.
The local session is slated Jan. 11 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Price Holiday Inn, located at 838 Westwood Boulevard.
"Preparing a programmatic EIS will allow us to work collaboratively with our shareholders to identify the leasing decisions that are best suited to local, regional and national needs and concerns," explained Gene Terland, acting Utah BLM director.
"Scoping is a crucial part of ensuring that federal oil shale and tar sands leasing programs take into account environmental and socio-economic impact while allowing the nation to realize tremendous benefits in terms of energy availability, reliability and security," added the state's acting BLM director.
Along with the Uintahs in Utah, the PEIS planning areas for oil shale includes the Piceance Basin in Colorado, the Washakie Basin in Colorado and Wyoming and the Green River Basin in Wyoming, indicated the federal agency.
The tar sands planning area encompasses sedimentary portions of the Colorado and Wasatch Plateau in southeastern Utah and Castle Valley region.
The BLM will apply an interdisciplinary approach in completing the programmatic environmental impact statement in order to consider the resource issues and concerns identified during the public scoping process.
The final PEIS will amend the BLM's existing management plans in the three states containing tar sands or oil shale resources and guide the development of commercial leasing regulations as mandated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, indicated the federal agency.
Additional opportunities for public involvement and comment will occur when the BLM releases the draft programmatic environmental impact statement. Under the U.S. Department of the Interior rules, state and local along with tribal governments will be invited to obtain cooperating agency status for the purpose of preparing the PEIS document.
In June, the BLM launched a limited research, development and demonstration oil shale leasing program to enhance collective knowledge about the viability of innovative technologies for oil shale development. To the extent possible, the federal agency will use the information gathered during the limited research program to assist in preparing the PEIS to support commercial leasing.
In addition to the Jan. 11 scoping session scheduled at Price, the BLM will conduct 7 to 10 p.m. public comment meetings Jan. 10 at Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City; Jan. 12 at Westin Plaza Hotel in Vernal; Jan. 13 at the agency's field office in Rock Springs, Wyo.; Jan. 18 at Garfield County Fairgrounds in Rifle, Colo.; Jan. 19 at Marriot Denver West in Denver, Colo.; and Jan. 20 at Holiday Inn in Cheyenne, Wyo.
Carbon County residents with Internet access may obtain details about the implementation of the 2005 policy act and the status of the tar sands and oil shale commercial leasing PEIS by visiting the federal agency's website at www.blm.gov/nhp/spotlight/epa2005/.