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The Daily Sentinel (Colorado): Public’s input on oil shale not recorded

By BOBBY MAGILL
Thursday, February 22, 2007

A meeting Wednesday night in Grand Junction that Royal Dutch Shell billed as a chance to hear the public’s concerns about the company’s Piceance Basin oil shale research projects and “definitely implement” public comments turned out to be something a bit different.

Shell neither solicited public comments nor took any effort to write them down.

The meeting was the third of four public open-house sessions presenting information about Shell’s four Piceance Basin oil shale research and demonstration projects, including its private Mahogany Research Site and three other proposed projects on public land. Those three sites are now beginning the state permitting process, which could take about a year.

The previous two meetings were held Tuesday in Meeker and Wednesday morning in Rangely. The final meeting is scheduled for Rifle at 9 a.m. today at the Garfield County Fairgrounds exhibit hall.

Company spokeswoman Jill Davis said last week Shell wants to hear public feedback about its research plans and said the company will “definitely implement” the comments it receives at the meetings and alter its state permit applications accordingly.

But on Wednesday, after a short presentation outlining general details of Shell’s first planned oil shale test, Davis told the crowd gathered in a Grand Junction Double Tree Hotel ballroom to direct questions about the projects to company technical personnel scattered around the room.

The public was never directed to make comments. Clipboards with comment sheets were scattered around the room, but few meeting attendees touched them.

Davis said Shell’s technical employees answering questions would relay any concerns they heard at the meeting to their co-workers after the meeting ended.

Some employees, she said, may be recording the public’s observations about the company’s oil shale research plans, but they don’t have to.

“It doesn’t mean we’re not taking comment just because we’re not writing it down,” she said. “We don’t have to have a record.”

The meeting format, she said, “is very effective” and has received great feedback from people saying they’re glad they can speak with Shell’s technical personnel and have their questions answered personally.

When asked how many public comments Shell received from the previous two meetings, she said, “I just don’t have a record to show you.”

“This is voluntary,” she said of the meetings.

Shawn Dueitt, a plant manager at Shell’s Mahogany Research site, said some members of the public he talked to at the meeting were concerned about the “energy balance” of in-situ shale oil extraction and the projects’ energy and water requirements. He said he wrote down one person’s question, which concerned Shell’s timeline for oil shale production.

Shell’s Harry Posey, who was answering technical questions about the oil shale test, said he heard concerns about the project’s water consumption and its effect on air quality and water quality.

He said one woman gave him a list of concerns, but otherwise, the public’s observations about the project were never recorded.

If he heard something new from the public, he said, he’d pass it along to his superiors.

James Thurman, Shell’s Denver manager of government affairs said he only talked to a few people while answering attendees’ questions, but said he wouldn’t comment about the kind of feedback he received from the public.

“I’m sure we’ll pull people together and compile things,” he said, adding later that the people he talked to wondered “how quickly we could bring oil shale on and why we couldn’t do it faster.”

Cathy Kay of the Western Colorado Congress said she was disappointed that Shell didn’t take public comments and answer questions in an open forum so the entire audience of more than 140 people could hear what the company’s technical gurus had to say.

Mesa State College Student Trustee Matt Soper, who said he hopes to get a job with an energy company, said he was excited about Shell’s presentation Wednesday.

“The feeling in here is completely different,” he said, comparing the meeting to the Genesis Gas and Oil municipal watershed meeting he attended in Palisade in January. “People seem to be more curious, accepting technology as something that’s going to work.”

Bobby Magill can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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