BLM Environmental Study Advances Oil Shale Plan

The Bureau of Land Management moved ahead with its push for commercial oil shale development, despite congressional concerns about the agency's pace.

BLM released its draft programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS) for oil shale and tar sands resources on just under 2 million acres of public land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Where it occurs, oil shale development would supersede other uses of public lands, such as recreation or other oil and gas activity.

No final oil shale plan can be issued until at least October, thanks to language inserted in the omnibus spending bill awaiting President Bush's signature. The omnibus bill forbids BLM from issuing the final regulations for commercial-scale leasing of oil shale or offering any commercial oil shale leases during fiscal 2008.

Oil shale deposits on public lands in the West are estimated to hold the equivalent of 1.23 trillion barrels of oil. BLM's plan would make at least 61 billion barrels worth available.

"The potential of America's oil shale resources to meet future U.S. demand for fuel is significant," BLM Director Jim Caswell said.

Commercial development of those resources won't begin for several years. Additional site-specific environmental studies will also be required for each application before a lease is issued.

In report language with the omnibus spending bill, the House and Senate Appropriations committees urge Interior to take it slow.

"While industry is still many years away from establishing the commercial viability of new oil shale extraction technologies, there is concern that the Department of the Interior may be moving ahead before the full impacts of such a program are known, and without full and complete cooperation of the affected states," the report states.

BLM will conduct a 90-day public comment period on the draft EIS.

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