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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The Bureau of Land Management today released a final proposal to go forward with sharp reductions in land to be made potentially available for oil shale development in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.
However, the acreage reductions are somewhat less than what were laid out in a draft proposal earlier this year.
Under the proposal, about 677,000 acres would be open for application for leasing, compared to about 2 million acres under a 2008 decision under the Bush administration.
In Colorado, about 26,000 acres would be available. About 357,000 acres would be open for leasing in Utah and 293,000 acres in Wyoming.
The total acreage in the final proposal compares to about 462,000 acres that would have been made available in the draft proposal. The BLM said in a news release that the change reflects its correction of acreage identified in the draft study as lands with wilderness characteristics in Wyoming, re-evaluation of some lands designated as areas of critical environmental concern, and refinements to management of greater sage-grouse habitat to reflect information from state wildlife agencies.
However, Colorado’s acreage would continue to be a small fraction of the 360,000 acres made available in 2008.
The final plan also carries forward the draft proposal that only research, development and demonstration leases would be issued at first. Commercial leases would be issued only when a lessee satisfies conditions including those in the RD&D lease.
The final proposal also would result in about 130,000 acres being open for commercial tar sands leasing in Utah.
The agency reconsidered its 2008 decision as part of a lawsuit settlement with conservation groups. While some conservationists and others have said the agency needs to take a go-slow approach to commercial leasing given uncertainties about technologies and impacts, counties that are home to oil shale deposits have called on the agency to keep the 2008 land allocations.
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said in a statement that he welcomes the “measured steps” the Interior Department is taking to encourage oil shale research and development.
“With water being one of our most precious commodities in the West, I have concerns about the potential impacts of commercial oil shale development. Nonetheless, I look forward to seeing this technology explored further. … The Interior Department’s decision today ensures that we will not be out over the front of our skis with untested technology .”
￼Also today, the Colorado BLM said it signed RD&D leases with ExxonMobil Exploration Co. and Natural Soda Holdings, Inc.
The leases, which the agency had approved in August, are for technologies the two companies are planning to test to develop oil shale in place underground in Rio Blanco County. The leases take effect Dec. 1.