WASHINGTON - The Bureau of Land Management is running roughshod over federal laws to push out oil shale development without a chance for public comment, The Wilderness Society charged Tuesday.
The Washington-based environmental group alleged in a letter that the BLM ignored federal law to expedite commercial development of oil shale without allowing the public a chance to object to land management plans in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. Twelve plans are being amended to address oil shale production on federal lands in the West, though the plans do not deal with leasing the lands for extraction.
Nada Culver, senior counsel for The Wilderness Society's BLM Action Center, said the BLM violated federal law by denying the public their "basic right to protest" the plans.
"This administration willingly sacrificed good governance in favor of using their last days in office to fork more public lands over to the oil and gas industry," Culver said.
The environmental group said that when draft land management amendments were released earlier this year they brought in some 105,000 comments in a 120-day period. But the 12 amendments - which the group says are being fast-tracked to move forward on oil shale development - did not adjust any of the amendments after the comments.
The BLM doesn't dispute that it passed over a protest period on amending the land management plans to address oil shale, but maintains there will be plenty of time for the public to weigh in on proposed oil shale leases.
Utah BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall says the Interior Department approved the land management plan amendments without a protest period because of a congressionally mandated timeframe in the 2005 Energy Policy Act.
But, she adds, "the main issue here is that even though they approved it without the BLM protest period, it's important to recognize that before any leasing of land for oil shale is even done, there will be additional [National Environmental Policy Act] analysis."
She says at that stage there will be "ample opportunity" for public input.
Congress had barred the BLM from finalizing rules on leasing federal lands for oil shale extraction in previous years, but did not renew the ban this fiscal year. That development opens the possibility of leasing federal lands for oil shale extraction, though that is expected to take a long time.
Supporters say oil shale represents a vast domestic reserve of energy.
Oil shale is actually sedimentary rock that when heated produces a chemical mixture known as kerogen that can be processed into a synthetic oil for use in jet or diesel fuels. Environmental groups say the technology is lacking for full-scale commercial production of oil shale.