Revising a Bush administration plan to open nearly 2 million acres of public land to potential oil shale development will only delay efforts to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil, Shell Exploration and Production Co. said Wednesday.
Tracy Boyd, a Shell official, was among speakers at Bureau of Land Management public meetings in Golden on efforts to review the Bush administration plan released in 2008. About 50 people attended afternoon and night sessions.
A similar meeting a day earlier in Rifle in western Colorado drew about 100 people.
While some say developing oil shale could help reduce U.S. oil imports, the Government Accountability Office said in a report last year that oil shale development could have "significant" impacts on water quality and availability.
Past studies have shown one to 12 barrels of water, or up to about 500 gallons, may be needed to produce a barrel of oil, the report said.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said the review of the 2008 oil shale plan could result in an update to account for water demands in the West and new research and technology. The BLM also plans to consider whether to prohibit development on wilderness areas, sage grouse habitat and other areas of concern.
While Boyd said a bureau review leading to the 2008 plan was "adequate and comprehensive," other speakers raised concerns about what oil shale development could do to water, air quality, wildlife and communities.
Companies are still years from finding a profitable way to heat kerogen in the shale to produce oil.
"By then, most of us should be driving electric cars," said Mike Chiropolos of Western Resource Advocates. He and others contend Colorado has other forms of sustainable energy that should be explored before heating rocks to extract oil.
The Bureau of Land Management has said there is an estimated 1.5 trillion barrels of recoverable oil in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.
The West has had a frustrating history with recovery efforts. In 1982, Exxon shut down a $5 billion project, putting 2,200 people out of work. In 1991, Unocal had abandoned an effort to produce oil shale on a commercial scale near Parachute, Colo. That plant employed about 480 people.
In 2007, the bureau issued six leases of federal land in Colorado and Utah for research on commercial oil shale recovery methods. Three more applications for leases are under review.
Delays in efforts to boost domestic oil production will mean higher imports, and lower tax revenues generated by the oil industry, Boyd said.
John Gale of Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers questioned giving industry more access to public lands for oil shale research when they have access to private lands.
"As a ranch kid, my mom used to say you're supposed to finish what's on your plate before you ask for more," he said.
Curt Moore, an attorney who recently moved from the energy-rich Western Slope, said the best deposits are on public land, though. Moore also said the real threat to Colorado water is not oil shale development but population growth on the Front Range.
Boyd said the U.S. needs energy, which can be developed while also managing and mitigating impacts of development.
The bureau also was taking comments Thursday in Cheyenne, Wyo.
Shell Exploration and Production is part of Royal Dutch Shell PLC.