Oil shale debate rages on

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) -- The debate rages on over the future of oil shale development on BLM lands in Colorado. Thursday, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce held a press conference to put the issue front and center.

"We would like to see the research and development happen, in order to see whether or not we can truly make this a viable fuel source, and by doing that, improve the overall economy of the Grand Valley," GJ Area Chamber of Commerce’s Diane Schwenke said.

The Environmentally Conscious Consumers for Oil Shale (ECCOS), the Chamber of Commerce and Club 20 reviewed comments sent in from the public, hoping the BLM will go back to its old policy that was put into effect in 2008, but after a lawsuit just a year later, the BLM said that just isn't possible, and you can expect a new policy to be drafted by the end of this year.

Thursday’s press conference showed support for the 2008 Oil Shale and Tar Sands Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, or PEIS.

"Make sure that our country, the United States of America, has the opportunity to do what we keep talking about, and that's the all-of-the-above option, and the idea of having energy independence in this country," ECCOS’ Brad McCloud said.

In 2008, the BLM came out with the PEIS that these groups were in favor of, but in 2009, environmental groups legally challenged the PEIS, and a negotiated settlement sent the BLM back to the drawing board to formulate a new PEIS from scratch. Coming out of that work were four new options, with one being deemed the preferred option, but the groups in favor of the old plan say if the BLM decides on the preferred option, it would kill all future oil shale business in the country.

"It would take 90 percent of the potential available acreage off the table in the state of Colorado. It would remove it from potential development These are the richest reserves, the most accessible, and they make the most sense," McCloud said.

The Chamber of Commerce says with the preferred option, no businesses would invest in oil shale, and hope the BLM will reconsider and decide to go with its original PEIS that was formulated in 2008.

"For commercial development, what they have now done is squeeze it down to the point that a private business would be very hesitant to make the decision to do the research and development in the first place," Schwenke said.

The chamber said the BLM told them that the 2008 version was still a viable option, and that's why the group is fighting to reinstate it, but the BLM said it is not an option because the 2009 lawsuit causes them to completely re-write the plan, making the old option no longer viable.

The chamber said if the preferred option is pushed through, it could set up the BLM for future law suits from the other side, which could again send them back to the drawing board, and the oil shale issue would again be unsettled.

The BLM hopes to have its new PEIS finalized by the end of the year. A thirty day protest period will follow, along with 60 days for a governor’s consistency review, and sometime after that the BLM will analyze the protests and sign a new record of decision on what to do with the public lands.

A statement from the BLM reads as follows:

“The Energy Policy Act of 2005 directed the Secretary of the Interior to establish regulations for a commercial oil shale leasing program. BLM adopted rules in 2008 and is in the process of revising and updating them to ensure that BLM’s commercial oil shale regulations provide a fair return to the American taxpayer and adequate measures to protect the environment. The proposed rule complies with a 2009 settlement agreement on a legal challenge to the BLM’s existing commercial oil shale regulations. Any proposed rule would undergo a thorough public review and comment process.

To date, technological and economic conditions have not combined to support a sustained commercial oil shale industry in the United States. The Final PEIS is anticipated this year.”

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