Groups seek to block oil shale, tar sands development
by Steve Kadel
staff writer
Jun 06, 2013 | 1495 views | 0 0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Moab-based Living Rivers has joined other environmental groups in filing a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for allegedly failing to protect endangered species on public lands offered for oil shale and tar sands development.

The 60-day notice was filed May 23 in federal court in Denver, said John Weisheit of Living Rivers. The notice is the first step toward filing a lawsuit.

The BLM has allocated more than 800,000 acres of public land in the Colorado River Basin for oil shale and tar sands development, according to a news release from Grand Canyon Trust, one of the groups that filed the notice of intent.

“This plan threatens to industrialize backcountry, pollute air and water, destroy habitat, and commit the Colorado River Basin to an even drier future,” Grand Canyon Trust’s Taylor McKinnon said in the release.

However, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said in a letter to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) that litigation from environmental groups already has reduced the available BLM land for oil shale development in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming from 1.9 million acres to 679,000 acres.

Bishop said the BLM is also proposing “significant changes” to the oil shale commercial leasing program. Those changes include a policy of granting commercial leases for oil shale research and development only after the agency has determined the drilling operations can occur without “unacceptable environmental risk,” according to the BLM.

Bishop’s letter called that “a nebulous term.” He said it duplicates safeguards already in place under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The letter, also signed other senators and representatives, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, asked the DOI to extend the public comment period on the new regulations by 60 days from its May 28 closure. Bishop’s spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin said the request was granted.

The BLM’s proposed new policy also would replace the current royalty rates industry must pay, a change Bishop and others believe will deter energy development. The new rule would boost the present 5 percent rate adopted in 2008 under the Bush administration to 12.5 percent.

But Steve Bloch, attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said the oil shale industry now pays les for development rights than does the traditional oil and gas industry.

“It’s almost like a taxpayer-funded incentive,” Bloch said.

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