March 2011 - Oil Shale in Colorado's Piceance Basin

Mar 23, 2011

It is 40 degrees, it is 10 degrees - it is warm and sunny and yet it is still winter.  We're still peeling the wing covers off the plane and plugging in the engine heater. We are flying more as Spring approaches even though it is still March in the mountains.

And while the weather ebbs and flows, so does our energy policy - going green with more wind and solar energy - and quickly back to 'drill baby drill'.  Oil and gas and oil shale - unrest in the Middle East - higher gas prices and yes, right  back to 'drill baby drill'.  Who says mid-term elections don't matter.

It was one of those aforementioned transition days where it was warm in the valleys and winter in the mountains. We made our way from Vail-Eagle in Colorado to the Piceance Basin (geologic oil-rich basin in north-west Colorado that is part of the Green River Basin formation) to attend oil shale meetings and briefings and give our passenger experts the birds' eye view of oil-shale leasing country and the impacts this will have on our water resources and large scale landscapes.

For those unfamiliar to the Piceance Basin, it has provided critical habitat and migration corridors for elk and mule deer populations and clear streams for native cutthroat trout.

A round of oil-shale leasing is working its way through the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to allow energy companies to test and develop oil shale technologies in the Basin. Oil shale development requires an incredible amount of energy because large amounts of rock must be heated to extremely high temperatures - up to 900 degrees - to release the oil.

Experts from D.C. and local activists were getting their first aerial look at current drilling activities and potential leasing sites.  The flights put into perspective the vast areas involved, the pristine lands that would be compromised, and encouraged debate on where our future energy might come from in the USA.  The discussion revolved around the topics of climate change, whether this technology is feasible, and the rampant use of our precious water resources.

There is much activity on Capitol Hill and in the West regarding oil shale.  A 2010 Government Accountability report projects that the water usage demands of oil-shale development - hundreds of thousands of acre-feet per year - greatly exceed water availability in the Colorado River Basin.
And of course my own personal opinion re climate change is that we as a people take out insurance on absolutely everything from our cars to our pets, so why wouldn't we hedge our bets on the possibility that climate change exists and insure against any development that might contribute to this.

Recent polls show that an overwhelming majority of people in western States believe that protecting our water should be a priority and more than two thirds of respondents felt that we can have a strong economy and protect our air, land and water.

Balanced energy plans create jobs.

From sun to snow to changing policies and politics...welcome to our world.