Groups File Suit To Save Communities And Water From Oil Shale Proposals

A consortium of groups joined forces to put the brakes on Bush-era regulations and land management plans to fast-track development of oil shale, a dirty fossil fuel that threatens water resources, communities and wildlife in the West.  Oil shale development would also contribute to climate change.

The groups filed two suits in U.S. District Court for Colorado alleging that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the Bush administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act in drafting regulations for a commercial oil shale program without, by their own admission, having sufficient information on the environmental impacts.

Craig Thompson, chair-elect of the National Wildlife Federation board of directors and a former oil shale worker states, “What the rush for oil shale development will bring is an impoverished landscape in which scarce water and stressed wildlife are pushed past the brink,” adding “Why the rush now, despite objections from Governors Freudenthal and Ritter, along with Senators Ken Salazar and Mark Udall?”

The suit also charges that the BLM violated federal procedure by amending 12 resource management plans in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming to allow oil shale and tar sands development on nearly two and one half million acres of land without the opportunity normally afforded the public to file an administrative appeal, or “protest,” of the decision. Furthermore, the Bush administration failed to ensure that taxpayers receive a fair return from oil shale lease royalties, in violation of Federal Lands Policy Management Act and the Energy Policy Act of 2005.      

Producing a liquid fuel from oil shale entails heating solid rock to temperatures in excess or 600°F to liquefy the kerogen inside for conversion into synthetic petroleum fuels.  Because of the large amounts of energy needed to heat and process oil shale, as many as 10 new coal power plants might be needed in the West, leading to increased emissions of greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change.

The Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Native Ecosystems, Colorado Environmental Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, National Wildlife Federation, Red Rock Forests, Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Western Colorado Congress, Western Resource Advocates, The Wilderness Society and Wilderness Workshop filed the suits.

Published: January 21, 2009