Balancing Act: Oil Shale Development
by KREX News Room, Hilary Martin
Nov 10, 2011 MST
The balance between energy development and environmental conservation continues in Garfield County. The Bureau of Land Management issued oil shale research leases in the Piceance basin in 2006 and 2007. While the usual argument is that diverse energy sources are needed for the local economy, others argue that those benefits don't outweigh the current wildlife industry and areas.
Mule deer and other wildlife that live on the Roan Plateau and in Northwest Colorado during the warmer months migrate to the Piceance Basin during the winter. The basin doesn't get as much snow as the other areas, which means they are able to survive the winter in lower elevations. The Colorado Environmental Coalition continues to raise their concern about oil shale being a viable process or energy development. in the area. Taking to the air, you're able to see the impact of the industry.
"If you fly, you see all 1,800, and you'll see how close together they are, and the proximity that they are to the river and to ranches," explained Jane Pargiter of Ecoflight. The non-profit, based in Aspen, works to give aerial perspectives to conservation work.
"We're concerned that with the resource and development projects underway," said Jim Spehar, of RST Associates. "That's a science project, that to date anyway, is not considering the cumulative aspects of what that [oil shale development] might mean."
Getting an energy source from the oil shale hasn't been economically viable so far.
"This is all occurring in a four-county area that has 130,000 agricultural jobs of which could be at risk. There's also a substantial hunting and fishing economy which is also important and provides jobs," said Spehar.
The potential for oil shale has been explored for nearly a century, and is still in the research and development phases.
"What we're saying right now is that there is an imbalance and that the concern is overly concentrated about the technology without adequate concerns for the impacts," he said.
Those impacts include having a negative impact on wildlife's and the $3 billion industry that surrounds wildlife in Colorado.
"Colorado is the number-one state for elk, hands down, and mule deer, and they're declining, and economy--it's important for this county," said Gene Byrne, a retired Colorado Division of Wildlife biologist.
West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Executive Director David Ludlam says the industry is acting responsibly.
"There is not an oil shale company in the basin that would move forward with their project if they first didn't identify ways to do it that could protect the environment, protect our national resources, while at the same time producing the oil that our country so desperately needs," said Ludlam.
He says the industry is on the brink of being economically successful.
"There are companies that have made tremendous gains in that area [technology], and feel that they'll be able to produce oil shale in five, 10, 15 years down the road and believe in their product, and so do we," said Ludlam.
But the Colorado Environmental Coalition has there doubts and says it'd be more economically profitable to develop wind and solar energy rather than the "dirty fuels of the past."
"We think you can have both. You can have jobs, you can protect the environment, and you can move forward responsibly with energy development," said Petrika Peters of the Colorado Environmental Coalition.