DENVER – A big change in the scope of oil shale leases on public lands is drawing praise from people in Colorado and across the West. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last week released its final management plan for the potential energy source.
Bill Midcap, renewable energy director with the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, likes the new plan. He says it will help preserve one of Colorado’s most precious resources: water.
“We all know that water has all the potential of running out of Colorado. We think it’s prudent that they ensure to the agricultural community how much water is going to be taken, before they move forward.”
The new policy says that public lands can only be leased if oil shale companies can show the economic and environmental viability of the technology used for research or development. The previous policy made nearly 2 million acres available without those restrictions; now, just under 700,000 acres of public land could be used. Twenty-six thousand of those acres are in Colorado. Supporters of increased oil shale research – including the oil and gas industries – worry that the amount of public lease land available is too small to offset economic costs and risks in development.
Ken Neubecker, director of the Western Rivers Institute, says the viability restriction is important, because energy companies often have water rights that trump those of agriculture or Colorado cities. Also, he warns, the current technology used to develop oil shale abroad is not practical in the arid Mountain West.
“That is actually a pretty water-intensive operation, using two-and-a-half to four barrels of water for each barrel of oil. It’s a lot easier to do in Estonia and Latvia, but it’s not that easy to do here. Those are wet countries, and this is very dry country.”
Midcap says the new plan leaves him optimistic that the government will listen to the concerns of Coloradans and those across the West about the region’s natural resources.
“Farmers and ranchers have a strong enough voice that I don’t think we’ll be pushed out. I think our voice is strong. ”
Regional leaders – even those as far away as Arizona – encouraged the BLM to adopt a plan that would protect the waters from the Colorado and other rivers.
The full Environmental Impact Statement is available at http://ostseis.anl.gov.