Friday, February 03, 2012

"Common-Sense Approach" Or "Plan To Block" Oil Shale Development

Feb 3: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published a Notice of Availability (NOA) of the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) and Possible Land Use Amendments for Allocation of Oil Shale and Tar Sands Resources on Lands Administered by the BLM in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The publication opens a 90-day public review and comment period. BLM called the proposal a "common-sense approach" while House Republican leaders said it was the Obama Administration's "plan to block U.S. oil shale development and U.S. job creation."
    The Draft PEIS analyzes several alternatives for land allocation and resource management. Under the BLM's Preferred Alternative identified in the Draft PEIS, the BLM would continue to support the research and development of hydrocarbon deposits in an environmentally responsible way that protects scarce water supplies in the arid West.
    If the BLM decides to adopt the Preferred Alternative, 461,965 acres would be available for research and development of oil shale, a kerogen-rich rock (35,308 acres in Colorado; 252,181 acres in Utah; and 174,476 acres in Wyoming). In addition, 91,045 acres in eastern Utah would be available for activities related to tar sands, a type of hydrocarbon-wet sedimentary deposit. BLM Director Bob Abbey said, "The preferred alternative continues our commitment to encouraging research, development, and demonstration projects so that companies can develop technologies that can lead to economic and commercial viability. Because there are still many unanswered questions about the technology, water use, and impacts of potential commercial-scale oil shale development, we are proposing a prudent and orderly approach that could facilitate significant improvements to technology needed for commercial-scale activity. If oil shale is to be viable on a commercial scale, we must take a common-sense approach that encourages research and development first."
    BLM indicated in a release that, "To date, technological and economic conditions have not combined to support a sustained commercial oil shale industry in the United States, and there is currently no commercial development of oil shale in the areas under review in the draft PEIS." Lands that would be open to oil shale development under the Preferred Alternative would be available for Research, Development, and Demonstration (RD&D) leases. BLM could issue a commercial lease after a lessee satisfies the conditions of its RD&D lease and meets all federal regulations for conversion to a commercial lease.
    Additionally, following the recommendations of the Government Accountability Office -- which determined that several fundamental questions about oil shale technologies remain unanswered, including critical questions about water demands -- the United States Geological Survey (USGS) is undertaking an analysis of baseline water resources conditions to improve the understanding of groundwater and surface water systems that could be affected by commercial-scale oil shale development.
    BLM indicates that "oil shale" is a term used to describe a wide range of fine-grained, sedimentary rocks that contain solid bituminous materials called kerogen. It should not be confused with "shale oil," which is not addressed by the draft PEIS.  Kerogen, which is organic matter derived mainly from aquatic organisms, releases petroleum-like liquids when subjected to extremely high temperatures -- more than 750 degrees.  Developers have been trying to produce oil from this rock in an economically-viable way for more than a century. The majority of U.S. oil shale (and the world's largest oil shale deposit) is found in the Green River Formation in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.
    Tar sands are sedimentary rocks containing a heavy hydrocarbon compound called bitumen. They can be mined and processed to extract the oil-rich bitumen, which is then refined into oil. However, unlike the oil sands deposits in Canada, oil is not currently produced from tar sands on a significant commercial level in the United States. Additionally, the U.S. tar sands are hydrocarbon wet, whereas the Canadian oil sands are water wet. This difference means that U.S. tar sands will require different processing techniques.
    Any new land allocation decisions made on the basis of the Final PEIS would replace the land allocation decisions made in 2008 that proposed making up to 2 million acres of public lands available for commercial oil shale leasing in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming and 431,000 acres available for tar sands leasing in Utah.  Some Western communities argued that the 2008 PEIS and Record of Decision would have prematurely allowed commercial leasing without technologies having been proven viable and without a clear understanding of impacts on scarce Western water supplies. In response to those concerns and in settlement of litigation, the agency agreed to reconsider the 2008 land allocation decisions.
    BLM indicates that a 90-day public review and comment period began on February 3, 2012 and is scheduled to end on May 4, 2012 [Note: The FR notice 77 FR 5513, indicates that the comment deadline ends on 05/02/2012]. Public meetings on the Draft PEIS will also be held in Rifle, CO; Rock Springs, WY; Salt Lake City; and Vernal, UT. The public will be notified of the dates and times of these meetings at least 15 days in advance via local media and the project website.
    House Natural Resources (NR) Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) immediately released a statement entitled, "Obama Admin. Announces Plan to Block U.S. Oil Shale Development and U.S. Job Creation." Representative Hastings said, "The distinction between the pro-American job policies of House Republicans and the anti-American energy policies of the Obama Administration could not be clearer. On Wednesday, the Natural Resources Committee approved a bipartisan bill [H.R.3408] to promote the development of U.S. oil shale and create hundreds of thousands of American jobs. On Friday, the Obama Administration released their plan to close over a million acres of federal land to oil shale development. Republicans have a plan to expand access to American energy resources, grow our economy, and put people back to work. The Obama Administration has a plan to lock-up U.S. energy resources and send jobs overseas. This unfortunately is just one more example to add to the ever-growing list of Obama Administration actions that block U.S. energy production."

    Rep. Hastings said that according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the U.S. holds more than half of the world's oil shale resources. The largest known deposits of oil shale are located in a 16,000-square mile area in the Green River formation in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. USGS estimates show the region may hold more than 1.5 trillion barrels of oil -- six times Saudi Arabia's proven resources, and enough to provide the United States with energy for the next 200 years.

    On February 1, the House NR Committee approved H.R.3408, the "Protecting Investment in Oil Shale the Next Generation of Environmental, Energy, and Resource Security Act" or "PIONEERS Act" as part of the House American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act (H.R.7). The sponsor, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) said, "Oil Shale is one of the most promising new sources of American-made energy and the United States is fortunate to have an abundance of oil shale resources. These resources are an important component of America's energy future. This bill removes the uncertainty from oil shale development and opens up land for both research and commercial development of oil shale. It will create consistent policies that businesses can rely on to move forward, contribute to our energy security, and create good paying American jobs for thousands of Americans." 

    Access a lengthy release from BLM with contact and commenting information, and links to the Draft PEIS, FR notice and related information (click here). Access a release from Rep. Hastings (click here). Access the markup website for opening statements, a video and a summary of the NR Committee's actions on the Markup (click here). Access legislative details for H.R.3408 (click here). [#Energy/OilShale, #Energy/TarSands]
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