Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Utah: BLM identifies oil shale-rich areas it would consider leasing

Land has energy promise
BLM identifies oil shale-rich areas it would consider leasing
By Steven Oberbeck
The Salt Lake Tribune
12/22/2007 02:42:48 AM MST

Entrepreneurs who dream of reaping huge profits from Utah's extensive oil shale and tar sands deposits now have reason to hope that the opportunity to commercially develop those resources is a bit closer.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management this week identified about 630,971 acres of Utah land that it eventually may consider leasing for oil shale projects. It also pointed out another 431,224 acres that possibly could be leased to businesses hoping to recover oil from tar sands.
Right now, there is no existing program in place that would allow the BLM to offer leases on federal lands that have the potential for oil shale development, said Heather Feeney, a BLM spokeswoman in Washington, D.C.
"We aren't yet to the point where we can authorize any commercial development projects or even offer leases, but identifying the land that may eventually become available is an important first step," she said.
The Utah lands that the BLM believes may hold oil shale or tar sands development potential were identified in a draft of an environmental study that was released Thursday. The study is designed to help guide the federal government in the future management of public lands containing those resources.
In all, the document identified approximately 1.9 million acres of public lands in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming for potential commercial oil shale development. All the tar sands lands that were identified are in Utah.
"The potential of America's oil shale resources to meet future U.S. demand for fuel is significant," BLM Director Jim Casell said in announcing the release of the study. "The lands we are proposing to make available are estimated to hold, at a minimum, the equivalent of 61 billion barrels. At the low end of the range, that would yield enough gasoline to keep American tanks filled for 18 years."
Environmental groups, such as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, are aghast at the extent of the lands the BLM has signaled it may eventually consider leasing.
They are putting in the cross hairs some of the most stunningly beautiful wilder- ness areas in the state - areas such as the San Rafael Swell, White Canyon and around the Dirty Devil River," said Steve Bloch, staff attorney for SUWA.
He said the potential devastation from oil shale or tar sands development could be incredible.
"If you've never seen pictures of the tar sands project in Canada it is essentially a big open pit strip mine with a refinery on site," he said.
Although the BLM contends no leasing will be allowed in wilderness or wilderness study areas, Bloch argues that much of the lands the BLM could consider opening up for development are "wilderness quality" lands that should be protected from development.
The draft environmental impact study, known technically as a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, was a requirement of the Bush administration-backed Energy Policy Act of 2005 that called for a program to lease federal lands for oil shale and tar sands development.
Recovering crude from oil shale has yet to be proved economically feasible on a commercial scale. Earlier attempts in the 1980s went bust.
Research analyst Alan Isaacson of the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research indicated in a study in 2006 that the history of oil shale in the United States has been marked by periodic booms followed by slumps as the more favorable economics of conventional petroleum eventually dominated the energy industry.
"The important question is: Will a sustainable oil shale industry develop or is the current interest another one of the periodic booms to be followed by another bust?" he wrote.
The BLM will accept public comments on the study through March 20, 2008, and then will begin an extensive review process that could lead to its amending its land-use plans in late 2008 to include oil shale development.
Feeney said one BLM official, however, recently indicated it is unlikely there will be any commercial oil shale development on federal lands before 2015.
She added that although the BLM has issued some leases for tar sands development for the past 20 years or so, there are no commercial projects ongoing, nor are there any planned for any federal lands at this point.


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