SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Interior Department announced its long-awaited decision Friday on how much federal public lands in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado will be potentially available to oil shale development projects and the pursuit of tar sands leasing.
The decision sharply reduces the amount of acreage available from what was decided by the Bureau of Land Management in 2008, prior to the oversight of the Obama Administration. It is likely to be met with criticism by Uintah County officials who have complained the re-visitation of the issue was an about face.
In its announcement, the Interior Department said 678,000 acres in the three states will be available for potential leasing, while 130,000 acres may be contemplated for potential tar sands leasing in Utah. The decision amends 10 land use plans in the three states.
“This plan maintains a strong focus on research and development to promote new technologies that may eventually lead to safe and responsible commercial development of these domestic energy resources,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said. “It will help ensure that we acquire critically important information about these technologies and their potential effects on the landscape, especially our scarce water resources in the West.”
The decision on the acreage is a far cry from the 2 million acres contained in the 2008 land management plans, but more than the 462,000 acres at one point under consideration.
Among the excluded lands are those with wilderness characteristics or high priority critical habitat for the greater sage grouse — which means 301,000 acres are off the table in Utah for tar sands, according to the decision.
The BLM is accepting public comments for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register, which is expected next week.
Oil shale is a fine-grained sedimentary rock containing kerogen and is distinct from “shale oil.” The largest known domestic oil shale deposits are in a 16,000-square mile area in the Green River formation in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Tar sands are sedimentary rocks containing a heavy hydrocarbon compound called bitumen, which can be refined into oil.