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For Immediate Release, November 9, 2012

Contact: Taylor McKinnon, (928) 310-6713

Feds Target More than 800,000 Acres for Oil Shale,
Tar Sands on Public Land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming

DENVER— The Bureau of Land Management today proposed allowing oil shale and tar sands development across more 806,000 acres of public lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The plan stems from a settlement of litigation brought by environmental groups in 2009 that challenged a 2008 Bush plan to open 2 million acres of public land to oil shale and tar sands development. Today’s proposal was spelled out in an environmental impact statement and proposed amendments to 10 land-management plans.

“Oil shale and tar sands development would be ruinous for the Colorado River basin and for the struggle to curb the greenhouse emissions that are causing climate change,” said Taylor McKinnon, Wildlands Program Director (formerly Public Lands Program Director) with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The BLM should have chosen a plan that avoided those impacts by simply prohibiting those forms of development on public lands.”

Today’s plan allocates more than 676,000 acres of land to oil shale development and more than 129,000 acres to tar sands. It subjects development to ecological and economic constraints 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 have increased by 46 percent since the draft plan; acres for tar sands increased by 42 percent.

“In the face of global warming, a drying West and Frankenstorms like Hurricane Sandy, devoting public lands to dirty, high-carbon development is very destructive public policy,” said McKinnon. “Today’s plan isn’t as bad as the Bush administration’s, but it makes clear that the Department of the Interior is still listening to the fossil fuel industry and its politicians more than climate scientists.”

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 resources and result in large areas of land being cleared and destroyed, commercial development would likely affect Gunnison’s sage grouse and four endangered fish species in the Colorado River — Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail chub. Oil shale and tar sands mining and processing will also increase regional air pollution. 

The Center for Biological Diversity is dedicated to ensuring that atmospheric carbon dioxide pollutant levels are reduced to below 350 ppm, 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 fundamentally 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, triggering mass wildlife extinctions, catastrophic global weather and ecosystem changes, and tragic human suffering.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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