New BLM Plan Would Limit Public Land For Oil Shale Exploration And Research

Feb 3, 2012

The Bureau of Land Management has drastically cut the amount of land it plans to open up for oil shale and tar sands development in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.

The BLM’s 2008 environmental impact statement would have allowed 2 million acres to be open for Oil Shale Research, Development, and Demonstration Leases.

Conservation groups joined to sue the BLM for endangering wilderness lands and core sage-grouse habitat, and reached a settlement last year. As a result of that settlement the BLM released a new plan Friday that would open up only 461,000 acres to RD&D leases.

BLM spokesperson Megan Crandall says the agency believes the land included in the plan is now “most appropriate” for this energy research.

“The BLM is committed to encouraging this type of research, and in order to do that, we have to open acreage,” says Crandall. “We have responsibilities to making sure that the activities and resource uses on BLM lands are managed appropriately, and they’re managed sustainably.”

Sherri Thompson is a project manager for the impact statement and works at the Colorado BLM office. She says About 174,000 acres in Wyoming’s Green River and Washakie Basins will be eligible for RD&D lease,  but there are no leases in Wyoming at this time.

“The quality of the oil shale in Wyoming isn’t quite as good as the quality of oil shale in Utah and Colorado, and that’s just a geological thing,” says Thompson.

Thompson says Colorado and Utah are more likely to see further development in the near future.

The initial lawsuit against the BLM was filed by a number of environmental groups including the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. The Alliance says the revisions are a step in the right direction, but worries oil shale development will deplete and possibly pollute already limited water resources.

environmental impact plan that cut the amount of land to less than a quarter of the original acreage.