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BLM Issues PEIS for Oil Shale, Tar Sands Resources

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The Bureau of Land Management on Friday published the 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 on Feb. 3 opens a 90-day public review and comment period.

Under the BLM's Preferred Alternative 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.

Under this option, 461, 695 acres across Colorado, Utah and Wyoming would be available for research and development of oil shale, a kerogen-rich rock. An additional 91,045 acres of eastern Utah would be available for activities related to tar sands, a type of hydrocarbon-wet sedimentary deposit.

The majority of U.S. oil shale is found in the Green River formation in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

No commercial development of oil shale in the areas under review in the draft PEIS is underway, as technological and economic conditions have not combined to support a sustained commercial oil shale industry in the U.S.

To address unanswered questions about water demand and oil shale technologies, the U.S. Geological Survey 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.

Tar sands are sedimentary rocks containing a heavy hydrocarbon compound called bitumen. Unlike Canadian oil sands, oil is not currently produced from tar sands on a significant commercial level in the U.S. The fact that U.S. tar sands are hydrocarbon wet, while Canadian oil sands are water wet, means that U.S. tar sands will require different processing techniques.

Any new land allocation decisions based on the Final PEIS would replace decisions made in 2008, which proposed 2 million acres of public land be made available for commercial oil shale leasing in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming and 431,000 acres be made 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 exploration and productivity activity on water supplies in the region.

Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at


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