UPHE Meets with Federal Officials to Raise Health Concerns over Oil Shale Project
Enefit American Oil is the international subsidiary of Eesti Energia, an Estonian company that plans to mine oil shale and extract 1.2 billion barrels of synthetic crude oil from its lease holdings in the Uinta Basin over the next 30 years. To service this project, Enefit requested the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to grant a right-of-way access to over more than 700 acres of BLM land. UPHE submitted extensive comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about why the BLM allowing Enefit a “utility corridor” through federal land is such a poor idea. We think that our analysis helped strengthen the EPA’s case in telling the BLM that they need to reassess granting the utility corridor request as the draft environmental impact statement contained very little information on the expected impact of the oil shale project as a whole. UPHE’s opposition, along with other organizations’ is mentioned in this Salt Lake Tribune article.
On the third week of September, UPHE representative, Malin Moench (lawyer/economist), joined three other environmental organizations in meetings with Federal officials in Washington, DC who have national decision-making authority over programs and permitting of energy extraction from federal lands in the West. UPHE, Grand Canyon Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance met with officials from BLM, Dept. of Interior, the EPA and the Council of Environmental Quality to express our collective alarm about the BLM’s draft Environmental Impact Statement. UPHE provided most of the answers to the questions asked by federal officials.
The draft EIS would grant Enefit American Oil the right to use federal land to build the water, oil, and natural gas pipelines, high-voltage transmission lines, and widened and upgraded roads that it needs to build and operate its so-called South Project. Enefit would strip mine oil shale on private land in the Uinta Basin near Vernal, and build a processing plant to extract oil and gas from the ore, which it would ship via pipeline to Salt Lake City refineries for final processing. It would produce from half a billion to a billion barrels of oil over its life. This would roughly double current oil production in the Uinta Basin, and more than double the region’s air pollution, where Volatile Organic Compounds, ozone, fine soot regularly exceed applicable health standards.
If the local BLM office (Vernal) grants these Federal rights of way it will set a precedent for vastly expanded mining and processing of oil shale in the Uinta Basin–a region which cannot absorb current levels of air and water pollution. Enefit’s mother company is already under pressure from the European Economic Community (EEC) to close down its oil shale industry to allow Europe to meet its carbon reduction commitments. They have bought oil shale property in Utah and Jordan in the Middle East where they can operate in regions with weaker environmental regulations.
UPHE, represented by Malin Moench, asked officials to intervene before the BLM’s Vernal office issues its final Environmental Impact Statement approving the Federal permits. We asked the national BLM officials to use their authority under NEPA to reject these permits as “not in the public interest.” Failing this, we asked BLM, Interior, and CEQ to require the Vernal office to do something that it has so far refused to do, which is to revise its EIS to include estimates of how much the South Project will degrade the region’s air, water, and climate. There are roughly 50,000 new oil and gas wells planned for the airshed where Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado meet. Adding unlimited oil shale development to the additional conventional drilling and associated pollution that is planned will degrade the air far beyond the immediate area where the three states meet, and impair the health of the residents of Utah’s heavily populated Wasatch Front and Colorado’s Front Range.
We hope that federal officials will hear our concern that our region’s inhabitants cannot safely withstand a doubling of pollution levels by the South Project (especially when added to the quadrupling of production and pollution from new conventional oil and gas wells) and that such massive future increases in pollution would impair the health of the large population centers to the West and the East of the Uinta Basin. UPHE also still firmly believes that the state or federal government has to undertake a more extensive study on the role of air and/or water pollution in the alarming trend spike in infant mortality in the Uinta Basin that still persists.
Photo credit: Bruce Gordon, EcoFlight