BLM issues preliminary EA for Colorado oil shale projects

The US Bureau of Land Management’s White River field office in Meeker, Colo., has released a preliminary environmental assessment (EA) for two proposed oil shale research, demonstration, and development (RD&D) leases about 35 miles southwest of the Colorado community. Public comments will be accepted through June 16, BLM said on May 18.

It said ExxonMobil Exploration Co. and Natural Soda Holdings Inc. have submitted operating plans for the in-situ development of oil shale. Each proposed RD&D lease is a 160-acre tract with an associated preference lease area of up to 480 contiguous acres, BLM said. The preference lease areas are reserved for possible conversion to a commercial lease, pending the results of the companies' RD&D work and additional BLM review, it said.

Kent Walter, White River field office manager, noted that the RD&D leases give companies the opportunity to test technologies and determine if they are commercially viable. “This critical [RD&D] work will also help us answer important questions about the water demands and potential impacts of commercial-scale development, so that we can forge a responsible and orderly path forward if the technology proves viable,” he said.

The proposals, which encompass adjacent areas and are analyzed in one EA, stem from a November 2009 call for oil shale RD&D lease nominations, which followed an initial round of nominations in 2007 in which six RD&D leases were issued. To date, technological and economic conditions have not combined to support a sustained commercial oil shale industry in the US, BLM said.

BLM held a 30-day public scoping period last spring to identify issues and concerns related to the two proposals, as well as public meetings in Meeker and Rifle, Colo., before it drafted the preliminary EA, it indicated.

Contact Nick Snow at

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