Bush Administration's Rush to Develop Oil Shale and Tar Sands Endangers Local communities and Wild Lands in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming
26 Conservation, Citizen, Local Government and Recreation Groups Denounce Lease Plan That Could Affect 2 Million Acres of Public Lands
WASHINGTON, DC - March 20 - Thousands of local residents and more than 2 million acres of wild public lands such as western Colorado's Piceance Basin and Utah's San Rafael Swell will experience fouled water, disrupted wildlife, polluted air and damaged habitat if the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) hurtles forward with a plan to open these lands to oil shale and tar sands development, according to a letter submitted to the BLM today by a diverse coalition of conservationists, citizens, local governments and recreation enthusiasts.
"Based on the BLM's analysis, local lives and livelihoods would be irreparably affected by commercial development activities involving oil shale or tar sands resources,” the letter states. "A wide range of environmental values, including clean air, clean water, climate, recreation, water supply, and wildlife habitat” would also see adverse impacts, according to the letter.
Oil shale is a rock that yields an oil-like substance when heated to extreme temperatures, and tar sands contain extremely heavy oil mixed with sand and clay. While tar sands are present only in Utah, oil shale is present in all three states.
New technologies for the safe commercial exploration of oil shale are at least a decade away, according to industry experts. Despite the need for additional years of research, the Bush Administration's BLM is rushing before it leaves office to complete public comment on a draft environmental impact statement that could pave the way for commercial–scale leasing. The BLM is taking this step even while it manages a robust research and development program meant to overcome significant technological obstacles posed by the commercial development of oil shale and tar sands.
"The BLM is putting their socks on over their shoes,” said Steve Smith, The Wilderness Society's assistant regional director for Colorado and Utah. "This move toward commercial leasing would likely lead to the imprudent transfer of tens of thousands of acres of federal lands to international oil companies and oil shale speculators. Oil shale development in its current form has devastating impacts on the land and the people who live nearby.”
If oil shale leasing were to begin today, some of the likely future impacts would include:
1. Surface mining of oil shale "would result in the permanent loss or severe degradation of nearly 50 percent of BLM stream fisheries” in the affected area, according to a 1996 study. Furthermore, transforming oil shale into oil leaves behind salts and numerous toxic, water-soluble chemicals that could leach into the groundwater that is becoming an increasingly important source of drinking water as climate change dries the West.
2. To support the million-barrel-per-day industry forecast draft environmental impact statement, 10 gaint new power plants and five large new coal mines will be required that could emit 105 million tons of carbon dioxide every year—or 80% more than was released by all existing electric utility generating units in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming in 2005. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions, the major culprits in acid rain, could increase by over 35,000 tons per year each.
3. BLM has estimated that large-scale oil shale development would result in the permanent loss of 35 percent of Colorado River cutthroat trout fisheries. Oil shale would also adversely impact Colorado's largest elk herd by severing migration corridors and destroying the winter range of all big game species. Other impacts to all wildlife include habitat loss, alteration or fragmentation, disruption through lights and noise, and increased toxicity levels from herbicides, hydrocarbons or other contaminants.
4. Tar sands mining usually utilizes strip mining or open pit techniques, completely ruining the environment during production and possibly permanently destroying the wildlife and landscapes that are impacted.
"Oil shale developers admit they are not ready to produce on a commercial scale now, and won't be for many years,” said David Alberswerth, TWS's senior energy policy advisor. "Technologies are still in the research and development phase. So why is the BLM rushing to push this dangerous process forward now?”