Landmark Agreement Halts Destructive Oil Shale Development in the Arid West
February 15, 2011
In a monumental victory for communities and wildlife across the West, the Obama Administration has agreed to reconsider Bush-era land management plans that would have opened up two million acres of public land in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming to commercial oil shale development – an extremely destructive, energy and water intensive process of strip-mining and heating oil-soaked rocks to extract refineable petroleum.
Sierra Club, as part of a coalition of environmental groups, challenged the Bush-era regulations in January of 2009, arguing that the 12 revised land management plans failed to adequately consider the harmful impacts of oil shale development on the environment, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Under the agreement, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will conduct a supplemental NEPA review process to consider revising the 12 challenged plans, with the new NEPA analysis including at least one alternative to commercial oil shale and tar sands leasing on environmentally sensitive lands, such as sage grouse habitat. The Department of Interior will also initiate a new rulemaking process to address the applicable royalty rate and environmental protection requirements for oil shale leasing. BLM has agreed to halt oil shale leasing while the Department revisits the regulations.
June 29, 2009
On June 15, 2009, Sierra Club and its allies filed an amended complaint in their lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management for opening up over two million acres of public land in the West to destructive oil shale and tars sands development. Sierra Club amended the complaint to highlight the proposed dirty fuels projects’ impact on global warming.
Oil shale and tar sands development is extremely energy intensive. The vast energy inputs required for extraction and refining of oil from oil shale and tar sands may produce up to four times more greenhouse gas pollution than conventional oil production. Development is likely to rely heavily on coal-fired power and will require electricity from an estimated ten new coal-fired power plants, emitting millions of tons of greenhouse gas pollution each year. Oil shale and tar sands development also requires a lot of water, and large amounts of energy will be needed to deliver the scarce resource to the arid West, resulting in more global warming pollution. Transporting and burning the liquid fuels will also emit more greenhouse gas pollution and worsen global warming.
Oil shale and tar sands development is a dirty and destructive practice that will exacerbate global warming. Increased greenhouse gas emissions will worsen drought in the arid West and indirectly harm communities and threatened wildlife in the region.
January 23, 2009
On January 16, 2009, Sierra Club and allies filed suit against the Bush Administration for recklessly opening up two million acres of public land in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming to commercial oil shale development – an extremely destructive, energy and water intensive process of strip-mining and heating oil-soaked rocks to extract refineable petroleum.
Specifically, environmental groups are challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s recent approval of 12 revised land management plans that opened up the two million acres for oil shale leasing, and the Department of Interior’s recently issued, flawed regulations governing commercial leasing of oil shale, that permit and encourage such leasing at far lower rates than any other petroleum product.
Local elected officials have also spoken out against Bush’s oil shale policy for the West, stressing that related technology remains largely unproven and rapid oil shale development would destroy local landscapes and ecosystems, worsen global warming, and deplete scarce water resources in the arid West.
For more information on the detrimental impacts of commercial oil shale development on human health and the environment, see Sierra Club’s press release here.
Details and Documents:
Sierra Club et al. First Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief and Petition for Review of Agency Action
United States District Court for the District of Colorado, June 15, 2009
See other "Fighting Dirty Oil and Promoting Green Transportation" cases.