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Rocky Mountain News: Ritter wants no oil-shale rush

Guv asks BLM to go slow on leasing, citing risk of harm

By Todd Hartman, Rocky Mountain News (Contact)
Friday, March 21, 2008

Gov. Bill Ritter on Thursday asked the federal government to put the brakes on oil shale leasing, warning that moving too quickly could spoil vast swaths of northwest Colorado.

Ritter, in formal comments submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said oil shale would “likely constitute the largest industrial development in the state’s history,” and, if done hastily, runs the risk of creating “tremendous adverse impacts on Colorado.”

The BLM in December issued a draft environmental impact statement that called for opening 360,000 acres of northwest Colorado to commercial leasing for oil shale, even though no one has yet developed the technology to extract the petroleum locked inside rock in an economically viable way.

BLM officials, however, say they’re operating under the mandates of the Energy Policy Act, approved by Congress in 2005. It instructs the agency to issue a plan for commercial leasing by February 2007, a deadline the BLM has missed by more than a year.

“Colorado is committed to working with the federal government and industry on oil shale efforts going forward,” Ritter wrote. “But this requires a thoughtful approach – economically, environmentally and socially – rather than a rush to premature leasing and regulatory decisions.”

Comments from Ritter and various state agencies covered 60 pages and echoed some of the concerns expressed over the past year by environmental groups, water utilities and Western Slope local governments. They fear oil shale production will require vast amounts of water – equal to what the Denver region uses in a year – and the electricity of as many as 10 large coal-burning power plants.

Three companies have leased plots for oil-shale research, and Royal Dutch Shell is generally considered to be furthest along. Shell’s process calls for using heating rods buried underground to heat the organic matter for several years until it turns into oil and flows to the surface through wells.

But industry officials say it will likely be into the next decade, if not later, before the technology to begin producing oil shale is ready to be employed on a commercial scale.

Glenn Vawter, manager of oil shale for EGL Resources, one of the firms researching the fuel, said he doesn’t foresee any rush by companies to buy commercial leases by next year, when the BLM could begin soliciting bids.

“I don’t think we see a lot of people who are stepping up to say we’re going to come in and bid bonus payments of millions of dollars to lease at this point in time,” Vawter said.

Also Thursday, following complaints from various groups, the BLM announced it would extend the comment period on the draft environmental statement on oil shale for 30 days, until April 21.

[email protected] or 303-954-5048

Urging caution

Gov. Bill Ritter cited several concerns about leases:

* Threats to “irreplaceable habitats” for wildlife species such as mating sites, movement corridors, winter range for mule deer and streams home to native cutthroat trout.

* Water demands that could leave less for agriculture, wildlife, recreation and other energy needs.

* Impact of air pollution on wilderness areas and towns from oil-shale production as well as from electricity plants that likely would be needed.

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2008/mar/21/ritter-wants-no-oil-shale-rush/

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