04/13/2011 03:14 pm ET Updated Jun 13, 2011

Oil Shale Development In The West To Get Fresh Look From BLM

The federal Bureau of Land Management announced on Wednesday that it is prepared to begin a process to take a fresh look at commercial oil shale development in the Rocky Mountain West.

In 2008, under the administration of George W. Bush, the BLM made 1.9 million acres of public lands available for oil shale development.

Upon taking office in January 2009, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar halted the Bush oil leases pending a review of the 2008 action.

"Moving forward with commercial regulations for oil-shale development is premature," Salazar told the Denver Post at the time.

Later that year, Salazar also made several parcels of land available for oil companies to research oil shale technology.

On Wednesday, the BLM announced that it had begun a process to determine what public lands are best suited for oil shale and tar sands development.

"The BLM remains committed to a thoughtful, orderly, and responsible oil shale development program," said BLM Director Bob Abbey in a Wednesday statement. "Public involvement is a vital component in this process as we seek to develop critical information about oil shale development."

Extraction of oil from shale has long-been derided by environmentalists as a resource-intensive, high-risk procedure that is years from being commercially viable. Existing oil shale extraction technology entails the use of increasingly scarce water resources. The process also emits more greenhouse gasses than normal oil extraction.

In the 1980's, Exxon pulled the plug on an expansive oil shale project in Western Colorado, sending the region's economy into a tailspin in an event still referred to as "Black Sunday."

On Wednesday, the BLM assured a more measured approach to leasing public lands for oil shale development, saying that "[f]inal land-use decisions will be made in light of any new information about potential resource needs and impacts, and technological innovations."