A new federal plan for oil shale development in the Rockies is a significant improvement, encouraging research on the still unproven technology while protecting wildlife habitat, having cutthroat trout protected and taking more time to assess the impacts, say members of a conservation coalition.
Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development said the Bureau of Land Management's proposal, released Friday Feb. 3, takes the right tack because the potential impacts of extracting the oil from rock under Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah haven't been thoroughly assessed. Companies are still exploring ways to mine kerogen, a precursor to oil, from the shale.
"The BLM's prudent approach to development makes sense," said Brad Powell, energy director for Trout Unlimited's Sportsmen Conservation Project. "Fish and wildlife populations in the West are dependent on the availability of clean, cold, clear water. Our water supplies in the West are too valuable to put at risk until the technology is better developed."
The BLM's preferred development scenario in the draft environmental impact statement would protect many key wildlife areas, including habitat for greater sage-grouse and Colorado cutthroat trout, said Kate Zimmerman, the National Wildlife Federation's senior policy adviser on public lands.
The 180,910-acre Adobe Town in southwest Wyoming's Red Desert would also be excluded from development.
The new proposal encourages companies to seek leases for research and development projects. They could pursue commercial production after fulfilling the terms of the research leases.
The proposal revises a 2008 plan to open about 2 million acres to the development of oil shale and tar sands. Several conservation groups challenged the plan on grounds that it didn't adequately analyze the potential effects on water quality and supply, air quality, wildlife and other natural resources. The BLM agreed to re-evaluate the plan.
"As pressure mounts to find more sources of sustainable, domestic energy, we cannot forget that America's Western public lands form a key part of our outdoors heritage and national identity," said Steve Belinda, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership's Center for Responsible Energy Development. "The BLM's revisions are an improvement in the effort to balance the wise of our public lands with preserving our public-lands heritage." For more information, go to: http://sportsmen4responsibleenergy.org