BLM Colorado State Office Prepares to Lease Railroad Bridge and Tracks for Oil and Gas Development

**Crossposted at Piceance.Org**

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency of the U.S. Department of Interior recently announced its intent to lease lands scattered among the small family farms, wineries, towns and residences of Colorado’s North Fork valley, on February 14, for oil and gas development.  The sudden move blind-sided residents who have been overwhelmingly opposed to the lease sale, but had hoped they could work with the agency going forward after an earlier sale was deferred.

Now sources in the North Fork show that BLM’s plans include leasing the Union Pacific railroad track, a railroad trestle across the North Fork river, and the river itself.

(Link to blog with Google Screengrab of lease, not sure how to resize images from the web).

The grey in the overlay, which shows the parcel the BLM is preparing for lease, indicates that the land is private.  But the minerals are public, and administered by the BLM.  However, public input is of little measure to the Colorado State Office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.  

This public agency does not overly rely on public feedback regarding how the public wants its public resources managed.  This is obvious in that the agency is mostly ignoring what the vast majority of the public–including businesses, associations, local governments, and stakeholders–told it to do.  That process played out last winter–over another holiday season that the BLM dropped this on the local community–and culminated in the leases being withdrawn last May.  

Now the BLM has dropped a new turkey on the populace, just in time for Thanksgiving–only this time there is no request for public comment.  This time its straight to protest and the clock is ticking: December 17.

BLM’s EA does note in the 280+ page Environmental Assessment that federal lands might include rights-of-way, including rail, but it does not seem to indicate that a private surface/split estate parcel includes these features, which are significant features to the community affected by a federal action: in this case a long-established railroad, trestle, and county road.  

No word on if Union Pacific railroad already knows they might have to watch out for roughnecks and rigs on the rails, when hauling that load of coal out from the three mines up valley (that employ 1,000 people).   Meanwhile BLM seems adamant that it made a decision–back in the 1980s–and its sticking to that.  

And that feels a bit like getting railroaded.

Interior Releases Final Oil Shale Leasing Plan

(Hopefully BLM sticks by this decision! Its still a lot of public lands with unknown impacts.   – promoted by ClubTwitty)

The US Dept of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management  today  released its final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Oil Shale and Tar Sands leasing in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Dennis Webb at the Grand Jct. Sentinel reports:

The Bureau of Land Management today released a final proposal to go forward with previously proposed sharp reductions in land to be made potentially available for oil shale development in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

Under the proposal, first unveiled in draft form earlier this year, about 677,000 acres would be open for application for leasing, compared to about 2 million acres under a 2008 decision under the Bush administration.

In Colorado, about 26,000 acres would be available, compared to about 360,000 acres previously.

Oil shale, which should not be confused with shale oil–like that in the Niobrara that is developed with horizontal drilling and fracking, is a sedimentary rock that contains a petroleum precursor.  

For decades the oil industry has been trying to find ways to commercially develop oil shale but success still remains an elusive prize.  One of the worse periods of financial devastation in 20th century Western Colorado was caused by the 1982 oil shale bust known as Black Sunday.  

Since the impacts of commercial development remain unknown, many folks in ‘Shale Country’ remain skeptical about the viability and benefits of oil shale, and about an industry’s effects to local communities, water supplies and quality, and the environment.  

In contrast to the Bush era plan–an industry-driven product spawned from the closed-door Cheney energy task force and rushed through in 2008, the decision proposed in the EIS released today would not allow leasing in Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, critical sage grouse lands, and public lands that retain wilderness characteristics.  But it would still open over 1,000 square miles to potential oil shale leasing.  

Still, the improvement from the Bush era plan is obvious to many.  The Natural Resources Defense Council issue a release:

U.S. Moves to Protect Western Lands from Oil Shale Exploration

WASHINGTON (November 9, 2012) – The Interior Department today moved to protect millions of acres of sensitive Western lands from oil shale and tar sands exploration, the Natural Resources Defense Council said.

“By significantly reducing the acreage of wilderness potentially available for leasing, Secretary Salazar is laying out a creative, thoughtful and more responsible approach in managing some of our most precious resources,” said Bobby McEnaney, senior lands analyst at NRDC.

The department’s decision reverses plans issued in the waning days of the Bush administration that opened more than two million acres in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming to destructive exploration of oil shale and tar sands-with virtually no environmental safeguards.

Salazar’s decision effectively screens off an additional 1.6 million acres of wilderness-quality lands, as well as lands with critical wildlife habitat, from such exploitation, thus significantly reducing the acreage available for commercial leasing.

However some environmental groups think that the Obama plan still opens up too much public lands to this potentially devastating activity:

“Oil shale and tar sands development would be ruinous for the Colorado River basin and for the struggle to curb the greenhouse emissions that are causing climate change,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The BLM should have chosen a plan that avoided those impacts by simply prohibiting those forms of development on public lands.”

And in the NRDC release, cited above, that organization also notes that oil shale would be a dirty fuel that should not be considered as a viable energy solution:

Oil shale production can generate more than twice the amount of carbon pollution than conventional gasoline.

“Seeking more and ever dirtier fuels is not the way to a clean energy future that Americans want and deserve. Rather, we need to accelerate investments in clean, renewable sources energy that are good for our economy and good for our heath and the health of our planet,” McEnaney said.

Oil shale has been the source of numerous scams and years of failed investments.  Here’s one that was recently making the rounds on email chains promising massive return…

The US Government’s Secret Colorado Oil Discovery

What is oil shale?

At first glance, oil shale looks like an ordinary black rock.

It feels grainy to the touch and greasy. You see, what’s inside oil shale has huge governments, Big Oil, venture capitalists, and even everyday investors scrambling to stake a claim.

Oil shale – when heated – oozes bubbling crude.

Of course oil shale is no secret.  Its been known for well over a century.  And there it still sits a victim of geologic reality.  As noted in this flim-flam piece, its a rock; but its not oil. And it does not ‘bubble crude.’  Nonetheless, today the American Petroleum Institute sounded eerily similar to the barker above.

Reid Porter, the lobby’s spokesman, said Friday’s news was a disappointing sign from the administration.

“This is another step in the wrong direction that limits development and investment in one of the nation’s most energy-rich areas and goes against a prior government decision that would allow for research and development over a much wider geographical area. Just days after the election this decision by the administration sends negative signals to industry and capital markets at a time when we need to encourage growth and innovation in the U.S.”

Since it is not known if oil shale will now or ever provide significant jobs, and what the trade-offs might be it seems premature to many to open more public lands–let alone millions of acres–to an unproven industry with completely unknown impacts.  

That’s because no technology yet exists that has been used successfully to develop oil shale as a commercially viable fuel. So no one knows how much water development might take, or what impacts to that might be, for example, or how much energy input it would take to bake or retort rock  and from where that might come.  

So while the prospect of wide-scale oil shale development may remain a frightening if somewhat fantastical prospect, many western observers will no doubt still breathe a bit easier now,knowing that oil shale research and leasing will move along in at least a somewhat more reasoned and sensible manner.  

** crossposted at Piceance.Org **