Daily Sentinel reported on leases, but not environmental concerns over Colorado oil shale project

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An article in The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction about leases for oil shale research and development in northwest Colorado quoted a Shell spokesperson as saying that the leases "will allow the commercial development of U.S. oil shale resources in a manner that is ... environmentally responsible." But the article failed to note concerns by a variety of government regulators and private groups about potential environmental damage.

In a November 16 article about Shell Frontier Oil & Gas being awarded leases to conduct oil shale research and development in northwest Colorado, The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction quoted a Shell spokesperson as saying that the leases "will allow the commercial development of U.S. oil shale resources in a manner that is ... environmentally responsible." However, the article by reporter Gary Harmon failed to note that the leasing of sites in Colorado has generated concerns over the potentially significant environmental impact of oil shale development, from The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and a coalition of environmental groups including Western Resource Advocates. In contrast, articles in The Denver Post, the Rocky Mountain News, and a previous edition of the Sentinel all reported on the environmental concerns related to the leasing of Colorado oil shale sites.

On November 13, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced its approval of a plan to begin leasing 160-acre sites within Colorado's Piceance Basin to oil and gas companies for oil shale research and development projects. According to the November 13 press release:

C. Stephen Allred, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management, signed the Decision Records for the Environmental Assessments (EAs) for projects proposed by Chevron USA, Inc.; EGL Resources, Inc.; and Shell Frontier Oil & Gas, Inc., clearing the way for issuance of the 160-acre leases associated with each proposal.

"Our National and economic security depend on our developing domestic energy resources like the oil shale found in western Colorado," Allred said. "These RD&D projects will allow us to test our belief that we have the knowledge and expertise to develop this resource effectively, economically, and with responsibility to the environment and to local communities."

The Department of the Interior press release also stated, "The Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) completed the EAs under the National Environmental Policy Act to examine each project's potential impacts as well as the cumulative impacts of all five projects combined with other oil and gas development in the area. A Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) was reached for each of the proposed projects."

Reporting on the leases awarded to Shell, the Sentinel said in its November 16 article that "[t]he leases 'mark a very important milestone on the road to developing a technology that will allow the commercial development of U.S. oil shale resources in a manner that is economically viable, environmentally responsible and socially sustainable,' " said Stephen Mut, vice president of unconventional resources for Shell Exploration & Production." The same article also reported:

The U.S. Interior Department earlier this week approved findings that would allow Shell and two other companies to move forward on the 160-acre test plots.

The findings included several environmental stipulations to be parts of the leases.

A November 15 news release from Shell Frontier Oil & Gas stated, in part, "Stephen Mut, Vice President Unconventional Resources for Shell Exploration & Production, said, 'This is a very important milestone on the road to developing a technology that will allow the commercial development of US oil shale resources in a manner that is economically viable, environmentally responsible and socially sustainable.' "

However, the Sentinel failed to note concerns by a variety of government regulators and private groups about potential environmental damage, as the Post reported on November 15 (an online version was published November 14):

Leasing oil-shale sites in western Colorado could cause more severe environmental damage than the federal government acknowledges, environmental groups and government regulators say.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the U.S. Forest Service and a coalition of environmental groups all urged further study before the Bureau of Land Management announced Monday it had approved research and development leases to Chevron Corp., EGL Resources and Shell for sites in Rio Blanco County.

But BLM and the Bush administration decided to go forward with the leases, saying other studies underway will look at the issues those regulators are bringing up.

Unlike the Sentinel, the News reported the concerns of environmental groups in a November 14 article about the leases (an online version was published November 13). According to the News, "The Bureau of Land Management cleared the way for three oil companies to lease public land for experimental oil shale projects in western Colorado. The federal agency said Monday the research and development projects would have minimal impact on the environment, a claim disputed by environmentalists." The News further reported:

In clearing the way for the leases to be issued, the BLM conducted an environmental analysis of the projects and concluded they would pose "no significant impact."

But Bob Randall, an attorney with Western Resource Advocates, a conservation law and policy group in Boulder, questioned the BLM's findings.

"State and federal regulators and members of the public have raised substantial concerns about the potential that these projects might contaminate air quality and water quality," he said.

In contrast to its November 16 article, a November 7 Sentinel article by Bobby Magill reported that public comments the BLM received before awarding the leases expressed concerns about the environmental impact of oil shale development in Colorado. As the Sentinel reported, "Some of the comment letters obtained by The Daily Sentinel showed that state officials were concerned that the BLM intended to overlook state or local laws when permitting the oil shale projects, and that White River National Forest and state officials were concerned about the projects' impact on air quality in the Flat Tops Wilderness."

From Gary Harmon's November 16 Sentinel article, "Shell signs research leases":

Shell Frontier Oil & Gas has accepted leases on three oil shale research and development plots in northwest Colorado.

The U.S. Interior Department earlier this week approved findings that would allow Shell and two other companies to move forward on the 160-acre test plots.

The findings included several environmental stipulations to be parts of the leases.

[...]

The leases mark "a very important milestone on the road to developing a technology that will allow the commercial development of U.S. oil shale resources in a manner that is economically viable, environmentally responsible and socially sustainable," said Stephen Mut, vice president of unconventional resources for Shell Exploration & Production.

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