CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The U.S Bureau of Land Management on Thursday brought to Cheyenne its roadshow seeking public comment as it reconsiders a Bush administration oil shale development plan.
In the afternoon session, just one person from the public rose to speak: Erik Molvar, a biologist with the group Biodiversity Conservation Alliance.
"Water is a major concern," Molvar said. "It's very unclear how much water is going to be consumed in oil shale development, but all indications are that it's going to be very, very high."
Congress in 2005 approved leasing up to 1.9 million acres of public land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming for oil shale development together with other lands holding tar sands. Only a small portion of the land has been leased so far.
Now the Bureau of Land Management is working on a new plan set for release by the end of 2012 that could call for reducing the amount of land available for leasing in the three states.
Molvar's group is one of several environmental groups that won a settlement with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar early this year in which he agreed to draft a new plan that will reconsider the wisdom of throwing open the vast federal land-holdings to oil shale leasing.
"The Bush administration committed far too much land to this speculative development for oil shale," Molvar said after the meeting. "And we're very pleased that Secretary Salazar is taking a fresh new look at it and will hopefully give us a more balanced outcome, where instead of everything that's possible for oil shale getting opened to lease."
The settlement with the environmental groups specifies that the federal government will give greater protection to the Adobe Town area of southern Wyoming and also protect sage grouse core areas in the state. The original plan would have allowed leasing of more than 1 million acres in Wyoming.
Sherri Thompson, the Bureau of Land Management's planning project manager, said after the meeting that Salazar sees possible oil shale development as being in its infancy in the country.
"What he wants to do is take a look and say that since it is in its infancy, it doesn't make sense to open nearly 2 million acres to potential development," Thompson said.
Speaking Wednesday at a bureau meeting in Golden, Colo., Tracy Boyd, an official from Shell Exploration and Production Co., said revising the Bush administration plan to open public land to potential oil shale development would delay efforts to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil.
Larry Wolfe, a Cheyenne lawyer who represents several energy companies, attended Thursday's afternoon meeting but didn't make a formal comment. Speaking after the meeting, Wolfe said the oil shale deposits in Wyoming aren't of particularly high quality.
"If you're going to develop the resource, you're going to go to the higher quality resources in Colorado and Utah, but primarily Colorado," Wolfe said. "But the commercial development of it just takes an enormous amount of power and an enormous amount of water, at least that's been all the studies that have been done to date."