Local conservation groups Wilderness Workshop and Western Colorado Congress joined 11 other environmental groups in filing two lawsuits in federal court on Friday in an effort to hinder efforts to develop oil shale.
The two lawsuits, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, accuse the Bureau of Land Management of moving forward with oil shale plans without adequately gauging the environmental impacts or giving the public enough chance to protest the decision. They say the Bush administration also failed to ensure that taxpayers will receive a fair return from oil shale royalties.
On Wednesday, just days before leaving office, the Bush administration announced a new round of proposals for oil shale demonstration projects on 1.9 million acres in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The measure is intended to give a boost to commercial production of the fuel, which the administration says will help lessen the country’s dependence on foreign oil.
“The BLM — in its stampede to beat the clock before the inauguration — is threatening wildlife, water and wilderness by opening up millions of acres of public land to destructive, unproven oil shale and tar sands development,” said Earthjustice attorney Ted Zukoski, in a prepared statement. “In this mad rush, public rights have been trampled and private interests rewarded.”
Oil shale is a fine-grained sedimentary rock that when heated can produce a crude oil substitute. The BLM estimates the three states may hold as much as 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil locked in oil shale, much of it in the Piceance Basin north of Rifle.
Critics say techniques to recover the fuel are costly and could cause harm to the region’s land, air and water and could require vast amounts of energy, meaning new power plants.
Among skeptics are Gov. Bill Ritter and Sens. Ken Salazar and Mark Udall, all Democrats, who have called for a cautious approach to oil shale development.
“Bush’s BLM shortchanged the people of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, putting politics ahead of good governance,” said Dave Alberswerth, senior energy policy advisor with The Wilderness Society. “Unfortunately, proposing this fuel whose time may never come as national energy policy perpetrates a cruel hoax on Americans suffering due to hard economic times. We can’t even harvest oil from shale and, even if we could, the environmental consequences would be disastrous.”
Earlier this month, a coalition notified the Bush administration of its intent to sue for alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act. Those claims may also be added to the lawsuits.
In addition to the two local groups, the lawsuits were filed by the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Colorado Environmental Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Red Rock Forests, Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Western Resource Advocates and The Wilderness Society.