On Monday, the Denver City Council issued a proclamation supporting the “research first” approach to protect western water, taken by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) in its recently issued Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). By taking this action, Denver joined the list of communities throughout Colorado’s Front Range and West Slope that have publicly supported the BLM’s common sense, balanced approach to oil shale speculation. Local officials in these communities are particularly concerned about oil shale’s potential impact on the state’s already overstressed water supply.
The council rarely takes political positions but decided to weigh in on this important issue. The proclamation passed overwhelmingly, with a final vote of 8-2. The council explained that projections show Colorado’s water demands will increase 50 to 80 percent over the next 35 years. The Government Accountability Office reported that full-scale oil shale development could use as much as 140 percent of the water used by the Denver metro area alone.
“It is a responsibility for us as leaders on behalf of the constituents of Denver to express these concerns to ensure my grandchildren and their grandchildren have water to drink, take a bath in and cook with,” said Councilwoman Debbie Ortega.
“This is central to our business,” said Councilman Chris Nevitt. “We are not going too far out on a limb on a position that has been articulated by the Department of Natural Resources and Democratic and Republican governors alike.”
To date, oil companies have failed to find a commercially viable technology that converts oil shale rock into oil. Because of the uncertainty around what technology would be used for industrial-scale oil shale development, the impacts to water quantity and quality are unknown.
The BLM’s new PEIS sets aside 1,000 square miles of public land to conduct oil shale research and development. It also states that BLM will not grant commercial leases until “the lessee satisfies the conditions of its RD&D lease and meets all federal regulations for conversion to a commercial lease.” One of the most important conditions would be demonstrating the impact to both water quantity and quality.
Elected officials from cities and towns throughout Colorado have expressed their support of the BLM’s position.
Front Range officials sent a letter of support for the new PEIS to Sec. Ken Salazar:
“Oil shale development could pose significant risks to both water quantity and quality in the Colorado River watershed. As elected officials along the Front Range of Colorado – whose communities depend on water from the Colorado River Basin – we strongly believe it is essential that any final plan guiding the development of oil shale on our public lands, must first prioritize a thorough understanding of the potential impacts this industry would have on our water resources
Recently, the Front Range Water Users Council – which collectively meets the water demands of approximately 80% of Colorado’s population – requested that the BLM closely analyze the potential broad scale impacts of oil shale development before considering commercial leasing of public lands. We strongly agree, especially given that this year’s drought has severely strained our water supplies and there is no relief in sight. The drought underscores the fact that we cannot afford to take risks with our water and compromise Colorado’s farms and ranches, our world-class outdoor recreation economy, and our growing communities.”
West Slope officials also expressed their support for the PEIS in a letter:
“It is smart to require that research and development of oil shale and tar sands technologies be completed and the impacts analyzed before moving forward with a commercial leasing program.
Our public lands are enormous economic drivers in the Intermountain West. Tourism, recreation, hunting and fishing, ranching, and other industries provide billions of dollars of revenue and hundreds of thousands jobs throughout the three-state region.
The BLM has acknowledged in the Draft PEIS that the potential impacts of development on communities, water and air are largely unknown but potentially significant.
These lands are our heritage, and for many, our livelihoods. It is critical that we know more about the impacts of oil shale and tar sands development before putting communities, water and air at risk.”
Round up of local elected official’s expressions of support:
Thornton letter (Denver suburb)