A resolution was passed unanimously by Mesa County Commissioners on Monday opposing the Bureau of Land Management's new plan on oil shale development. The BLM is planning to change an existing measure called the 2008 Oil Shale and Tar Sands Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement or OSTS PEIS.
County Commissioner Craig Meis says that decision-makers at the federal level have ignored local input on the revision to the plan.
"They're suggesting that they're trying to work with cooperating entities. They're not. They haven't been. They aren't," Meis stated. "They haven't listened to us whatsoever. Which is why we felt compelled to get together and draft a resolution to hopefully show them that we're talking now, together and hopefully there's strength in numbers."
Meis says that the 2008 version of the OSTS PEIS is the preferred plan. The BLM's revision or 2012 OSTS PEIS decreases the acreage of available development by almost ninety percent in Colorado, from 346,000 acres to about 35,000. According to Mesa County, the land removed from possible development would be categorized as having "wilderness characteristics".
But this new draft also affects Utah and Wyoming, which both, like Colorado, have large reserves of oil shale. Mesa County has banded together with ten other counties in those three states to make a statement to the federal agencies. The resolution that passed on Monday has also passed in Garfield County.
The reaction was mixed at the County Commissioners Meeting on Monday with many in support and in opposition of the resolution.
The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce showed its support, citing the positive local economic impact the companies doing the research have in the area.
"They need a firm commitment of knowing that the resources are going to be there if they take and spend the money up front in research and development," said Betsy Bair of the Chamber.
Meis says that one of the big things the county is trying to avoid is an incident like Black Sunday. Due to falling oil prices, Exxon announced that it was ending its Colony Project, effectively laying off 2100 workers overnight. Meis says that he is hoping private research and development will keep growth slow and steady and help avoid a "gold rush."
Many in opposition say that oil shale development hasn't been proven to be economical and they voiced their concerns on Monday.
Tom Phillips, a chemical engineer said that he doesn't agree with the resolution. He said that regardless of how much land is available, companies aren't going to invest without governmental support.
"It's almost a desperate attempt to force them to come in here and develop the oil shale deposits so that we can create jobs and grow ourselves out of the economic mess that we're in. I don't believe that's the answer," Phillips said.
The resolution also cites successful economical development of oil shale by the Estonian company Enefit. Those in opposition at the meeting discount that success, saying that Enefit is benefiting by extremely low tax rates in Estonia when compared to other businesses of equal size.
Others urged caution over concerns about the unknown environmental impacts.
"It needs to go slowly," said Mary Sealing. "There's no point in just opening vast tracts for potential leasing when you don't know what the impacts will be."
"That's exactly why we want these RD&D (research, development & demonstration) efforts to go forward," Meis responded, "so that the water issues can be determined, the air issues, the wildlife, the impacts, the socioeconomic impacts. All those things can be determined based on those research and development efforts."
In the resolution, Mesa County demands that the BLM extend the public input period past the May 4th deadline, thirty days after an expected oil shale regulation due to be published around May 15th.