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November 09, 2012 10:49 PM UTC

Interior Releases Final Oil Shale Leasing Plan

  • by: Piceance Watchdog

(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 **


3 thoughts on “Interior Releases Final Oil Shale Leasing Plan


    Today, the nonprofit Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF) commended fifth-generation Coloradan, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, for adopting a  plan to protect Colorado’s water from oil shale speculation. The Salazar plan, released today, would require oil shale companies to conduct successful research and development projects and prove the economic and ecological necessity of oil shale prior to commercial leasing.

    Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development also praised the decision:

    Sportsmen continue to urge caution on development of oil shale, tar sands

    DENVER – A sportsmen’s coalition applauds the Bureau of Land of Management’s balanced decision on the protection of many vital fish and wildlife habitats, but has concerns about the increased risk to the greater sage-grouse.

    The final programmatic environmental impact statement released Friday would make about 800,000 acres available for oil shale and tar sands production in northwest Colorado, southwest Wyoming and northeastern Utah. Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development supports the BLM’s move to require more research before issuing commercial leases on public land and believes it is prudent for companies with existing research parcels to show tangible results before additional land is leased.

    While many important habitat areas were protected, some key greater sage-grouse habitats in Wyoming were opened to potential development, which is of concern, the coalition said. The National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnerships are the SFRED coalition’s lead partners.

    And both Colorado Senators:

    Denver, CO – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet released the following statement in response to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) announcement that it has published its plan to support research and development of oil shale technologies on Colorado’s public lands.

    “Colorado enjoys an abundance of energy resources that when developed responsibly will help us diversify our energy portfolio and lessen our dependence on foreign oil.  I welcome today’s announcement and look forward to the research findings of the Interior Department, and industry, to determine whether oil shale may someday become a viable part of our energy strategy.

    “Colorado knows all too well what can happen when we rush into oil shale development. This plan will help ensure that any future commercial oil shale enterprise will proceed in an environmentally sound, socially responsible, and economically viable way. In Colorado and throughout the west, we must ensure that development of our energy resources takes into account our water resources, which are critical to farmers, ranchers, and our state’s economy.”

    Mark Udall issued the following statement on the Bureau of Land Management’s publication today of a plan to not rush unproven energy development and instead to promote further research of oil shale and tar sand resources on federal lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming:

    “I am glad the Interior Department is taking measured steps to encourage research and development of our oil shale resources. With water being one of our most precious commodities in the West, I have concerns about the potential impacts of commercial oil shale development. Nonetheless, I look forward to seeing this technology explored further. We need to pursue an all-of-the-above energy policy. The Interior Department’s decision today ensures that we will not be out over the front of our skis with untested technology.”

  2. For these reports. They are encouraging, to say the least. Your perseverance in staying on top of a much misunderstood subject (mostly because of misleading industry claptrap) and laying it all out for us is much appreciated.

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