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Ritter, Salazar slam plan to set aside land for drilling


Rocky Mountain News

Ritter, Salazar slam plan to set aside land for drilling

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The energy-rich Roan Plateau in western Colorado, seen behind a fence rail, has been targeted by the oil and gas industry.

Matt McClain / The Rocky: The energy-rich Roan Plateau in western Colorado, seen behind a fence rail, has been targeted by the oil and gas industry.

Gov. Bill Ritter and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar denounced an Interior Department decision Thursday to set aside 1.9 million acres of public lands in the West, including 360,000 acres in Colorado, for commercial oil shale development.

Salazar, a Democrat from the San Luis Valley, called it a “continuing effort to set the stage for a last-minute fire sale of commercial oil shale leases in Colorado.”

The Interior Department, which released its final environmental assessment Thursday, says commercial leasing of oil shale wouldn’t occur before 2012, given that companies have yet to develop mature technologies.

Salazar, Ritter and others worry that the federal agency could hastily auction leases on the public lands in the final months of the Bush administration with inadequate review of the impact on the local communities or water.

“As the national debate over America’s energy future continues, we must be clear that Colorado is committed to helping meet America’s energy needs,” Ritter said in a statement. “We are issuing about 35 new oil and gas drilling permits a day. But with the Department of Interior’s action today, the federal government has once again failed to act as a responsible partner for Colorado.”

He added, “The Bush administration is engaging in last-minute maneuvering in its waning days rather than developing a comprehensive, meaningful and responsible long-term energy policy for America’s future.”

Salazar had engineered a moratorium – to expire Sept. 30 – to keep Interior from issuing final rules for a lease auction. He cited concerns about the impact on the West’s scant water and environment.

President Bush and congressional Republicans say lawmakers should lift the moratorium.

Oil shale is a fine-grained sedimentary rock containing organic matter from which oil may be produced, either through heat or a chemical process. The deposits under Colorado, Utah and Wyoming have about three times the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia, according to the Interior Department.

Companies, including Royal Dutch Shell Plc, are exploring ways of getting oil products from the rock formations. The oil shale acreage in question lies in Garfield, Rio Blanco and Mesa counties.

“The goal of the BLM’s oil shale program is to promote economically viable and environmentally sound production of oil shale on Western lands,” said BLM Director Jim Caswell on Thursday. “We estimate deposits hold the equivalent of 800 billion barrels of oil – enough to meet U.S. demand for imported oil at current levels for 110 years.”

The BLM is an arm of the Interior Department, which manages public lands for multiple uses, including energy development.

The department’s final statement summarizes information on oil shale technologies and their environmental and socio- economic impacts. The next step before an auction could be held is for the BLM to issue a Record of Decision on Thursday’s assessment before the end of 2008.

Earlier in July, the department issued proposed rules that included maximum lease size and acreage limitations, as well as royalty rate options. If Congress lifts the moratorium and the BLM is able to issue a Record of Decision on those proposed rules, then companies could potentially nominate lands for commercial oil shale leases, said BLM spokesman Matt Spangler.

But the agency would thoroughly vet any commercial proposal, which could take two to three years before leasing a parcel of public land, he said. “Nothing could stop companies (from nominating lands). But I don’t think a company will nominate land without a viable technology.” or 303-954-2976

Oil shale facts

The United States holds the world’s largest known concentration of oil shale. About three times the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia underlie a surface area of 16,000 square miles. Proponents say the enormous potential of this domestic resource is a key to the nation’s energy security and economic strength, and to the quality of life Americans enjoy today and hope to ensure for future generations.

* More than 70 percent of American oil shale – including the thickest and richest deposits – lies on federal land, primarily in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. These federal lands contain an estimated 1.23 trillion barrels of oil – more than 50 times the nation’s proven conventional oil reserves.

* The BLM is conducting assessments on extracting federal oil shale reserves.

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