Oil Shale and Tar Sands Development Would Worsen Global Warming and Harm Public Lands, Colorado River, Wildlife
DENVER— The Center for Biological Diversity on Monday filed a protest challenging a Bureau of Land Management plan allocating 806,000 acres of public lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming for oil shale and tar-sands development. If it’s carried out, the development would unleash intensive greenhouse gas emissions, hasten Colorado River drying, threaten wildlife and increase local and regional air pollution.
“The climate crisis is worsening every day. The last thing we need is to destroy our public lands for carbon-intensive oil shale and tar-sands mining,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director with the Center. “This plan’s water use and greenhouse gas emissions would be ruinous for public land, the already-drying Colorado River, endangered species and efforts to curb global warming.”
The BLM plan stems from a settlement of litigation brought by environmental groups in 2009 that challenged a 2008 Bush administration plan to open 2 million acres of public land to oil shale and tar sands development. Today’s protest challenges an environmental impact statement and proposed amendments to 10 land-management plans for violating the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act and other laws.
The protested plan allocates more than 676,000 acres of land to oil shale development and more than 129,000 acres to tar sands. It subjects oil-mining projects to additional review not included in the Bush administration’s plan. While it reduces developable acres from the Bush administration’s 2008 plan, it increases allocations from what was proposed in a 2012 draft environmental impact statement. Acres allocated for oil shale development increased by 46 percent since the draft plan; acres for tar sands increased by 42 percent.
Producing oil from shale or tar sands can be dirtier than coal given the energy required to extract the oil. The production of every barrel of shale oil sends 50 percent more CO2 into the atmosphere than the production of one barrel of crude oil. Because mining would deplete and pollute water and destroy large areas of land being mined, development would likely affect numerous endangered species like Mexican spotted owl, Canada lynx and four endangered fish species in the Colorado River — Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail chub.
The Center is dedicated to ensuring that atmospheric CO2 pollutant levels are reduced to below 350 parts per million, which leading climate scientists warn is necessary to prevent devastating climate change. Further development of greenhouse gas-intensive energy sources, including oil shale, tar-sands and coal-fired power plants is incompatible with achieving this goal. If greenhouse gas emissions are not immediately reduced, the atmospheric carbon dioxide level will rise to approximately 500 ppm by mid-century, escalating wildlife extinctions, catastrophic weather and ecosystem changes and tragic human suffering.