DENVER (AP) – The Obama administration has proposed revising rules and regulations for oil shale development on public land in the Rockies, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday.
Salazar made his announcement while government officials filed a proposed settlement of two lawsuits by 13 conservation groups over the Bush-era plan to open nearly 2 million acres of public land in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah to the commercial development of oil shale and tar sands.
Several conservation groups sued in 2009, claiming the Bush administration didn’t adequately review potential environmental impacts before proceeding with a development plan and rules and regulations.
The proposed settlement filed in federal court in Denver would give the Bureau of Land Management more discretion when awarding oil shale leases and would remove the 5 percent royalty rates approved by the Bush administration for mining oil shale on public land. The lawsuits by environmentalists challenged the rate as too low.
Little is known about the potential environmental impact oil shale development will have on water and wildlife resources, a fact highlighted by the lawsuits. The settlement proposes requiring environmental reviews of commercial development, including impacts on air and water quality and water supplies.
“We’re very pleased with the secretary’s emphasis on the importance of water as we move forward with the research and discussion,” said Bill Midcap, the renewable energy development director at the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.
Salazar referenced an October 2010 report on water resources and potential oil shale development from the Government Accountability Office that said extracting the oil is expected to require a significant volume of water, a resource that has become increasingly scarce in the dry western region.
While water availability is just one of the several key issues that need to be addressed before progressing with oil shale development, Salazar’s announcement has been hailed by Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall.
“We need an all-of-the-above strategy to end our dependence on foreign oil, create jobs and confront global warming,” Udall said.
The U.S. contains more than half of the world’s oil shale resources, a sedimentary rock that contains a high percentage of organic material that can be converted to oil. Officials estimate that up to 3 trillion barrels of oil could exist in in the west.
Some 160-acre leases for research and development have been awarded in Colorado and Utah. Companies are testing technology to economically recover oil from shale, and industry and government officials acknowledge that commercial development is several years away.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)