Government Ignores Process: Opens 1.9 Million Acres to Oil Shale Development

Oct 7, 2008

WASHINGTON — The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) undermined the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when it decided to amend 12 land management plans for Colorado, Utah and Wyoming without providing an opportunity for the public to protest, The Wilderness Society charged in a letter sent today to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The plans were amended in particular to expedite the commercial development of oil shale in the Green River Basin of the three states.

“This administration willingly sacrificed good governance in favor of using their last days in office to fork more public lands over to the oil and gas industry,” said Nada Culver, senior counsel for The Wilderness Society’s (TWS) BLM Action Center. “In this case, the BLM denied the public its basic right to protest land management plans that could affect their ways of life. Unfortunately, this denial also violates federal law.”

The letter says that the notice of availability issued when the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) was published “makes it clear that there is no opportunity for continued public participation in the process” and asks “that the BLM withdraw the twelve amendments listed below until the agency has fully complied with applicable laws.” The BLM also denied the governors of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah the opportunity to conduct formal consistency reviews with the policies and programs of their state, affecting air, water and wildlife, according to the letter.

When the Draft PEIS was issued earlier this year, it garnered nearly 105,000 comments during a 120 day period, many of which identified significant deficiencies—yet the BLM made no adjustments to the 12 amendments. Among the problems with the Draft PEIS were the inaccurate estimates of water available in the Colorado River Basin to support a commercial oil shale industry and the BLM’s utter disregard for the potential global warming impacts of pursuing oil shale without significant additional research. Liquid fuels derived from oil shale, often called the dirtiest fuels on the planet, emit as much as 50 percent more global warming gases (GHG) than does conventional gasoline.

The California attorney general wrote in a letter to the BLM in March 2008: “In sum, the GHG emissions from oil shale and tar sands leasing on almost 2.5 million acres of federal land constitutes a significant cumulative impact on the environment. The available data (which was ignored by BLM) does not support the agency's conclusion that the project will not have a significant impact on climate change.”

The letter charges that the BLM “has deprived the public of an opportunity to provide meaningful comment on the numerous areas included in the PEIS” including issues such as how the BLM measured the amended plans’ impacts on the environment, how the decisions will affect use of our public lands and the logic of proceeding with a fuel that generates disproportionate amounts of global warming gas. The areas affected include 12 BLM jurisdictions in northwest Colorado, southwest Wyoming and northeast Utah.

“The administration should not be allowed to disenfranchise the public in their zealous pursuit of this misguided policy,” said Chase Huntley, an energy policy advisor at TWS. “They’re hurtling toward commercial oil shale development with blinders on, ignoring anyone or anything that might stand in the way. Unfortunately, they miss the most salient fact: The oil and gas industry has not yet successfully developed a commercial oil shale process that works safely and efficiently.”

Oil shale is a sedimentary rock containing kerogen which, when heated to extreme temperatures, yields oil. On October 1, a spending limitation enacted by Congress to give the oil shale industry more time to conduct research and development on their privately owned lands and as part of BLM overseen program expired. The Bush administration has issued draft regulations for a commercial oil shale leasing program despite the fact that industry admits a viable oil shale technology remains years if not decades away.

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