Environmental activists packed a Salt Lake City meeting hall Tuesday to urge the government to reject oil-shale development in eastern Utah, western Colorado and southwestern Wyoming.
Some industry officials and entrepreneurs said the deposits could unlock the key to U.S. energy independence if the Bureau of Land Management allows it. But they were outnumbered by many who told the BLM to avoid strip-mining remote territories such as the Book Cliffs and promoting new fossil fuels.
Tuesday's hearing was the first in a round meant to chart the agency's direction as it considers closing some of the 2.4 million acres that the Bush administration slated for possible oil shale and tar sands leasing.
Salt Lake City environmentalist Ed Firmage Jr. likened the results of commercial-scale shale mining to Appalachian coal mining.
"This is a disaster that we don't have to repeat," he said.
Others, including convicted oil and gas auction disrupter Tim DeChristopher, warned shale mining would pollute the Colorado River, a drinking water source to millions in the Southwest. They also begged the BLM to stop contributing to climate change.
"We are killing our future generations by continuing to greenlight this kind of extractive industry," said Lauren Wood, a river guide on the Colorado.
The BLM is essentially launching a do-over of a 2008 plan that environmentalists challenged in court. It envisioned 1.9 million acres of oil shale leases, with 631,000 in eastern Utah. It also foresaw 431,000 acres of tar sands development, all of it in Utah. The new plan may remove some of that acreage from play.
Holly Hopkins, of the American Petroleum Institute, sees no sense in going back on the 2008 plan, which went through a long public process and attracted 75,000 comments.
"Initiating a new [study] at this time," she said, "is an extreme waste of time and resources."
Companies would like to develop technology to make oil production from shale economically viable, she said, but they won't invest while the government's outlook is so clouded.
St. George resident Brent Fryer, who identified himself as a shale oil extraction technology developer, said the reserves could be a great U.S. asset, though he expects the political pendulum to keep that from happening soon. After all, he noted, this plan is expected to be complete just after the next presidential election.
More oil shale meetings
P All meetings run from 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m.
April 27 • Price, Holiday Inn, 838 Westwood Blvd.
April 28 • Vernal, Uintah Basin Applied Technology Center, 450 N. 2000 West, Multi Use Rooms 1, 2 and 3.
April 29 • Rock Springs, Wyo., BLM Rock Springs Field Office, 280 Highway 191 North.
May 3 • Rifle, Colo., Colorado Mountain College, West Garfield Campus, 3695 Airport Road, Main Auditorium.
May 4 • Golden, Colo., Denver West Marriott, 1717 Denver West Blvd.
May 5 • Cheyenne, Wyo., Holiday Inn, 204 W. Fox Farm Road.
To submit written comments, go to http://www.blm.gov/st5c