U.S. Water News Online
DENVER -- Companies hoping to tap an estimated 100-year
supply of shale oil locked in rock formations under Colorado, Utah,
and southwest Wyoming have won federal approval for experimental
Not since the 1980s have companies been as interested as they are
now in extracting oil from the rock, which has historically been a
laborious and expensive process.
The Interior Department authorized 10-year leases for Shell
Frontier Oil & Gas Co., Chevron USA and EGL Resources Inc. for
160-acre parcels for research and development projects in northwest
The companies must submit detailed development plans, monitor
groundwater, and obtain all required permits to protect air and water
quality, the department said in its decision.
The projects could begin as early as next summer.
Since 1996, Shell has tested procedures on private land in western
Colorado that involve baking shale rock in the ground with electric
heating rods, then pumping the melted oil to the surface. The plan is
to circulate refrigerants such as ammonia dioxide through underground
pipes to freeze adjacent areas to keep groundwater away from the
Earlier this year, the Bureau of Land Management declared the
projects would have no significant environmental impact. In
authorizing the leases, the Interior Department agreed with that
"These R & D projects will allow us to test our belief that we
have the knowledge and expertise to develop this resource
effectively, economically and with the responsibility to the
environment and to local communities," said C. Stephen Allred,
assistant Interior secretary for land and minerals management.
Still unresolved, however, are concerns voiced by some state and
federal agencies and environmentalists that the Bureau of Land
Management understated or failed to adequately analyze threats to air
There wasn't enough information about the effects on streams and
groundwater to ensure protection of fish, including Colorado River
cutthroat trout, listed by the state as a species of special concern,
the Division of Wildlife wrote in comments to the bureau.
The wildlife division and the U.S. Geological Survey also said
information was inadequate on the kinds of substances that will be
released by the extraction process.
"I'm concerned that the BLM didn't take seriously the comments
that various experts expressed," said Bob Randall, staff attorney for
Western Resource Advocates, an environmental law and policy group.
Bureau spokesman Vaughn Whatley said such concerns prompted the
agency to take a "hard look" at the data, but didn't change the
overall environmental analysis.
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