SILT, Colo. (AP) — The federal government held the first of several public meetings on plans for oil shale development on public lands that would keep activity off thousands of acres of environmentally sensitive areas in three Western states.
Under the proposal, new leases initially would be issued strictly for research on how to commercially produce oil from oil shale in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado.
The first meeting was held Monday in Silt to discuss the environmental impact and the different options that have been announced. More than 75 people attended, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported.
Mitchell Leverette, division chief of solid minerals in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Washington office, told attendees that Colorado, Wyoming and Utah are home to the world's largest deposits of oil shale, and much of that lies below land managed by the BLM. The agency also oversees considerable tar sands acreage in Utah, he said.
"That fact alone gives the BLM a tremendous stewardship responsibility, and it is not one that we take lightly," Leverette said.
The George W. Bush administration made almost 2 million acres available for potential oil shale development and 431,000 acres for tar sands development.
Federal officials took a new look after conservation groups filed a lawsuit in 2009 alleging the government hadn't fully reviewed possible environmental impacts.
A new draft environmental impact statement released earlier this year says the preferred plan now is to make more than 35,000 acres in Colorado, 250,000 acres in Utah and more than 174,000 acres in Wyoming available for oil shale research. Another 91,000 acres in eastern Utah would be available for activities related to tar sands research.
Sage grouse habitat, areas of critical environmental concern and the Adobe Town area in Wyoming are among those that would be off limits.
The public has until May 4 to comment on the proposal.
President Barack Obama's administration said it continues to encourage research.
BLM Director Bob Abbey said in a statement that if oil shale is to be viable on a commercial scale, the federal government must take a common-sense approach that encourages research and development first.
Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said the program is just political posturing by the federal government. The Obama administration is hostile to the possible development of much-needed energy resources, he said.
The BLM estimates the Green River Formation in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming has 1.2 trillion to 1.8 trillion barrels of oil resources, but not all may be recoverable.
The National Wildlife Federation supports the BLM's new proposal. But spokeswoman Judith Kohler said Monday that federation hopes potential impacts will be adequately studied should any method of commercial development be proposed, the Daily Sentinel reported.
"We want to make sure that (study) will be very thorough at that point," she said.
Alan Burnham, chief technology officer for American Shale Oil LLC, said it's important that companies have access to enough land to pursue oil shale projects, and that development rules provide flexibility.
"The technological stuff is hard enough," Burnham said. "We just don't want a lot of unnecessary regulatory hurdles."