Bureau of Land Management advances oil shale research

Source: Bureau of Land Management

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that it has taken a key step to advance research on an important potential source of domestic energy. 

The BLM’s Washington, D.C., Office has completed its review of three nominations for oil shale Research, Development, and Demonstration (RD&D) leases in Colorado and Utah. These second-round leases would allow the proponents to test the feasibility of various oil shale recovery technologies on public lands in the two states. The nominations will now be forwarded to the agency’s Colorado and Utah State Offices for the next phase in the review process. 

BLM Director Bob Abbey said, "To determine whether oil shale will be a viable energy source on a commercial scale, we need to support critical research to answer fundamental questions about the feasibility of the technologies, their impacts on the environment and local communities, and their use of water. This second round of leases will help us answer those critical questions so that we can chart a safe, orderly, and responsible path for our energy future." 

Abbey added, "The BLM is committed to careful consultation with all affected stakeholders in the oil shale process, including states, counties and tribes. The analysis that our states will now conduct will help us chart a wise path for western shale oil resources." 

In November 2009, the BLM published a notice in the Federal Register calling for nominations for a potential second round of oil shale RD&D leases, following the awarding of six leases in an initial round in 2007. 

The BLM solicited nominations of parcels, not to exceed 160 acres, for the conduct of oil shale research, development, and demonstration under a 10-year lease term. Applicants could also identify up to an additional 480 acres to be reserved for a potential commercial lease, for a total of 640 acres. The lease size available for commercial development was reduced from the 5,120 acres in the first round of leasing because the substantial reserves represented by 640 acres are more than adequate for a major oil shale production operation. The second- round leases would contain substantial diligence requirements, including specific timeframes for submitting plans of development, obtaining state and local permits, developing infrastructure, and submitting quarterly reports. 

The BLM received three nominations in early 2010: two in Colorado, from ExxonMobil Exploration, Co., and Natural Soda Holdings, Inc.; and one in Utah, from AuraSource, Inc. 

Earlier this year, the BLM formed an Interdisciplinary Review Team (IDRT) with representatives of the Governors of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming; the Department of Energy; and the Colorado School of Mines. The team recommended that all three nominations be advanced. 

The Colorado and Utah offices will now conduct National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews of the nominations. The analyses may take from four to 18 months to complete, depending upon the complexity of the resource issues to be analyzed. 

Oil shale is a fine-grained sedimentary rock containing organic matter from which shale oil may be produced. The organic matter, derived mainly from aquatic organisms, is called kerogen. 

According to the United States Geological Survey, the U.S. holds more than half of the world’s oil shale resources. More than 70 percent of the U.S. supply lies on Federal lands in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

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