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Groups add climate change to oil shale concerns

Source:  Copyright 2009, Associated Press
Date:  June 17, 2009
Original URL: Status DEAD

Conservation groups challenging a plan to open nearly 2 million acres of public land in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado to commercial oil shale development say potential effects on climate change weren't considered and that violates federal law.

Thirteen groups seeking to set aside the Bush administration's plan have amended two lawsuits first filed in January to add the claim about climate change. The amendments also allege the federal government broke environmental laws by not considering the potential effects on endangered species and air quality.

The coalition is challenging regulations and a plan approved late last year to tap the more than 1 trillion barrels of oil believed to be locked in a large formation under the three states.

The plan also covers development of tar sands in Utah.

Colorado elected officials accused the Bush administration of rushing through commercial oil shale rules and plans without adequate review of the potential environmental impacts and even before the technology is proven.

Industry and federal officials have said that commercial production is likely at least a decade off.

The two lawsuits contend that the Bureau of Land Management improperly curtailed public comment on the plan and commercial regulations and failed to ensure a fair market return for public resources when it set royalty rates.

As a Colorado senator, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the 5 percent royalty rate for the first five years of production a "pittance." He also called the regulations "premature and flawed."

Salazar and other federal officials are named in the lawsuits.

The amendments to the lawsuits filed in federal court Monday claim the BLM violated federal environmental laws by not taking a "hard look" at the greenhouse gas emissions that would be produced by oil shale production and the effects on climate change. It's unclear how much energy oil shale production would require.

A federal report released Tuesday said the effects of global warming are already being felt and are getting worse.

Federal officials have disputed that they rushed the oil shale plan or rules through. They say they missed deadlines set in the 2005 federal energy bill for completing the oil shale environmental impact statement and regulations.

Even with approval of regulations, federal officials say more rounds of environmental reviews and permits from more than 40 federal, state and local agencies would be required before any projects are approved.

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