Energy policy — oil shale: The Department of Interior proposes a settlement of environmental organizations’ lawsuit over leasing terms

A picture named oilshaledepositsutwyco.jpg

From the Associated Press (Cathy Proctor) via the Denver Business Journal:

The review settles two lawsuits that environmental groups filed in 2009 over the federal government’s rules for commercial-scale oil shale operations, Salazar said. The government hasn’t issued any commercial leases for oil shale production under the 2008 rules. Nor will the review change rules governing existing or proposed leases for oil shale research, a federal spokesman said. The rules for commercial oil shale operations were put forward in the last weeks of President George W. Bush’s administration. They changed oil-shale plans by the Bureau of Land Management, an agency of Salazar’s Interior Department, in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

The agreement to review the 2008 rules in coming months was accepted by plaintiffs in the suits, said Kate Zimmerman, an attorney with the Rocky Mountain regional office of the National Wildlife Federation. The federation was one of the 13 environmental groups that were party to the two lawsuits. The review will look at the amount of water available for use in oil shale operations; potential impacts on federal lands, wildlife and watersheds, and the amount of royalties that oil shale production should pay, Salazar said.

The U.S. Geological Survey, another Interior agency, also will analyze the amount and quality of water available to better understand the groundwater and surface water systems that might be affected by commercial-scale oil shale operations, he said. “Oil shale is an important resource for the U.S.,” said Salazar, a former U.S. senator from Colorado. “We need to move forward and examine the possibility of developing oil shale as part of our national portfolio, but we need to do it in a smart way.”

More coverage from The State Colunm (U.S. Senator Michael Bennet):

“This announcement is a welcome step forward in our efforts to ensure thoughtful, responsible development of Colorado’s natural resources while protecting the land, water and way of life we in the West hold dear. Our approach to oil shale development should be both measured and responsible given the potential effects extraction could have on Colorado’s precious water supplies, farmers, ranchers and local communities in the arid West. While we should allow for research and development to proceed, we must also be mindful of the need to protect our land and water and provide a fair return to American taxpayers.

“Beyond today’s announcement of a path forward for commercial leasing rules, I am also pleased to hear that scientists will undertake a full analysis of oil shale in the context of Colorado’s water supply, considering the importance of this precious resource to farmers and local communities.”

More coverage from Sheila Kumar writing for the Associated Press (via Bloomberg). From the article:

The proposed settlement filed in federal court in Denver would give the Bureau of Land Management more discretion when awarding oil shale leases and would remove the 5 percent royalty rates approved by the Bush administration for mining oil shale on public land. The lawsuits by environmentalists challenged the rate as too low. Little is known about the potential environmental impact oil shale development will have on water and wildlife resources, a fact highlighted by the lawsuits. The settlement proposes requiring environmental reviews of commercial development, including impacts on air and water quality and water supplies. “We’re very pleased with the secretary’s emphasis on the importance of water as we move forward with the research and discussion,” said Bill Midcap, the renewable energy development director at the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.

More from U.S. Representative Jared Polis via The State Column:

“The Department of Interior has taken a well reasoned approach to the future of Oil Shale on public lands with their announcement to take a closer look at how this form of energy could affect our precious and dwindling western water supplies,” said Polis. “The Department has struck a positive balance between researching future potential and ensuring that long term water needs and water impacts will be taken into account before companies invest dollars or the public invests it’s natural resources.”

More oil shale coverage here and here.

Leave a Reply