The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is taking comments through Tuesday on what could be the nation’s first shale oil mine.
Enefit American Oil wants to tap into oil shale deposits along the Colorado border that are massive, over a billion barrels. The company is planning to mine and process oil on private land southeast of Vernal, but it needs a right-of-way to run power, water and fuel lines over federal land.
Enefit CEO Rikki Hrenko-Browning says the environmental risks are minimal thanks to a process that’s been tested in Estonia over more than three decades.
“All of the engineering is designed with best-available control technologies in place,” she says, “and we really are committed to developing the project in the most socially and environmentally responsible manner possible.”
Hrenko-Browning also says the public will have other opportunities to weigh in because this is the first of several permits needed before the mine would be allowed to start producing around 50,000 barrels of oil a day.
Environmentalists are urging regulators to stop the project because of significant risks it would pose to the air, land and water in eastern Utah. They say the mine’s enormous impacts aren’t be evaluated as a whole because of a hodgepodge of jurisdictions, and that puts the environment at risk.
“We think it’s really critical for BLM to examine whether or not it’s willing to enable Enefit to use federal public lands to essentially flip the ‘on’ switch on this massive oil-shale development,” says Anne Mariah Tapp, who watches energy projects for the Grand Canyon Trust.
Environmental groups say the project will generate dirty energy that puts Colorado River tributaries at risk and adds to the pollution that causes climate change.