BLM begins review of oil sands, tar sands plans

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 14 -- The US Bureau of Land Management began its review of commercial oil sands and tar sands plans issued during President George W. Bush’s administration by publishing a notice of intent to prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) governing allocation of such resources in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

The process also will cover possible land use plan amendments for the 2 million acres of public land, which BLM made available under a 2008 PEIS, the Federal Register notice added. That PEIS also expanded the amount of land available for leasing, BLM said.

The planning area involves 1.9 million acres of public land with oil shale resources in Colorado’s Piceance and Washakie basins, Utah’s Uintah basin, and Wyoming’s Green River and Washakie basins; and certain sedimentary resources in 431,224 acres for possible tar sands development on Utah’s Colorado plateau, according to the notice.

It said BLM intends to take a hard look at whether it is appropriate to make this acreage available when “there are no economically viable ways yet known to extract and process oil shale for commercial purposes and Utah tar sands are not at present a proven commercially-viable energy source.”

The review also will give BLM an opportunity to consider what public lands might be best suited for such development in light of information developed since 2008, the notice said. “For example, the US Geological Survey has recently completed an in-place assessment of the oil shale and nahcolite resources of the Green River formation in the Piceance basin of western Colorado (August 2010) and an assessment of in-place oil in oil shales of the Eocene Green River formation of the Uinta basin of eastern Utah and western Colorado (August 2010),” it said. USGS also expects to release an assessment of Wyoming’s Green River basin later this year, it added.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service also published a notice in the Mar. 23 Federal Register of a petitioned finding to list the sage grouse as a threatened or endangered species, according to BLM’s latest notice. It said that the bird, which is found on some lands allocated for possible oil shale and tar sands leasing, was warranted for listing under applicable Endangered Species Act provisions, but the listing was precluded by higher priority listing actions.

Public comments on issues to be considered under BLM’s new analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act, including historic and cultural resources, will be accepted until May 16.

Contact Nick Snow at

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