The Mahogany Research Project operated by Shell Oil seeks to make oil shale a more viable source of fossil fuels in the near future.  This plant near Meeker, shown July 6, 2007, is a pilot program for possible future development.

File photo

The Mahogany Research Project operated by Shell Oil seeks to make oil shale a more viable source of fossil fuels in the near future. This plant near Meeker, shown July 6, 2007, is a pilot program for possible future development.

County backs shale holdup

Commissioners support effort to slow production in area


Projected population

County 2005 2035 (baseline) 2035 with oil shale) Difference

Garfield 50,673 136,697 154,301 17,604

Mesa 130,662 235,272 241,746 6,474

Moffat 13,426 26,356 31,487 5,131

Rio Blanco 6,073 18,624 39,013 20,389

Region total 200,834 416,949 466,547 49,598

- Source: Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado

— The Routt County Board of Commissioners will back an effort to slow the commercial production of oil shale in Northwest Colorado.

On Tuesday, the commissioners voted unanimously to sign a letter to Colorado's Congressional delegation. The letter, being prepared by the Colorado Environmental Coalition, asks that the members of Congress support an extension through 2009 of a funding limitation that prevents the Bureau of Land Management from selling commercial leases for oil shale production.

Sasha Nelson, the coalition's northwest organizer, told the commissioners that more time should be taken to research the viability of oil shale development technologies.

"This resource isn't going anywhere," Nelson said. "We're not saying let's not look at this resource. We're saying go slowly."

Oil shale is a sedimentary rock that contains hydrocarbons. It has long been debated as a potential energy resource that could increase the U.S.'s energy independence, and Nelson said the BLM is under political pressure to make progress on oil shale because of provisions in the Energy Act of 2005. There are large deposits of oil shale in Northwest Colorado, particularly in Garfield, Mesa, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.

"It's way too early to be pursuing the commercial leasing of oil sands," Commissioner Doug Monger said. "How do you know the value of that when you don't know the cost of extraction or the cost of the commodity you're extracting?"

Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush noted the "already enormous economic impacts" from the production of other energy resources such as natural gas. According to analysis and forecasts commissioned by the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, the combined population of Garfield, Mesa, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties is expected to more than double by 2035 - without oil shale development. There is also already a concern that the cost to governments to handle the growth likely will exceed energy revenues.

Oil shale "completely blows up the model," Monger said. "I think it is important for the Routt County commissioners to take a position on this because it will affect Routt County."

While there would be little direct effect on Routt County from oil shale development, Nelson said secondary effects such as air pollution should be a concern for local officials. Nelson also has asked the Steamboat Springs City Council to sign the letter. The city's Intergovernmental Services Department is evaluating the request.

"While it is true that Steamboat is not planted atop a layer of commercially viable oil shale, the secondary impacts to a community like Steamboat could be astronomical," Nelson said. "Air pollutants are going to get sucked right down the valley."

Nelson said the city of Grand Junction, the mayor of Rifle, San Miguel County and Pitkin County also have supported the letter and that the coalition still is working with Mesa, Garfield, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties. The coalition met with the Meeker Town Board last night.

- To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210

or e-mail


id04sp 9 years ago

The last time they tried to develop shale oil extraction in the US, OPEC increased production and lowered the prices to drive the shale process out of business.

Maybe the same thing would happen if the BLM was able to sell leases again.


cardsfan 9 years ago

I am always amazed how our politicians can talk and support something they know nothing about. Why not let Shell go forward with this? It will bring jobs and income to the state. If we don't know the cost to make the deal then do like every other government in the world does and ask for a piece of the action which means you take some of the risk. Meanwhile, we can keep paying $4 or whatever for a gallon of gas and keep exporting our jobs to Venezuela or the Middle East who are supplying our fuel.

With regard to pollution, the earth is a closed system and we will get whatever pollution that goes with our consumption - we seem comfortable though to let other nations do the work and not have to see the effects which don't leave the system. We are arrogant consumers who don't want to know about the true cost of our consumption.


bigdog 9 years ago

cardsfan, you nailed it. All of the politicians talk about "energy independence" (never going to happen while on fossil fuels) but are not willing to take the bold steps to make a difference. Instead they just pander......


colowoodsman 9 years ago

The commissioners are WAY,WAY off base on this one. Nelson does not even realize that Steamboat is NOT "down the valley" from Rifle. The Colorado Enviormental Coalition has a long history of interfereing with the US Forest Service and are partly responsible for the current condition of our forests. The Commissioners should be MORE concerned with the threat of smoke pollution (wildfires from beetle kill) right here in Routt Co. They should be encouraging oil shale development so we can afford diesel fuel to fix our county roads!


nativegirl 9 years ago

This is a pretty arrogant attitude from Routt County, particularly when they are not one of the counties that has oil shale to be processed.

It strikes me odd that Routt County wants to limit "pollution" in Moffat, Rio Blanco, and Garfield Counties when more pollution is created in the Yampa Valley on a daily basis by people who work in Steamboat but are forced by the ridiculously poor housing situation in Routt County to drive 100 miles daily to and from work from Craig. And then there are the traffic problems this causes and the dangers involved in commuting a long distance in bad weather on roads that aren't designed for the amount of traffic we now have between Craig and Steamboat.

If the Routt County Commissioners are truly concerned about pollution, they need to get realistic about affordable housing in Routt County, look at more mass transit options to and from Craig where the majority of their work force lives, and work out their traffic problems.

The irony here is that Routt County wants to continue exploiting cheap labor (and I mean both legal and illegal workers here) and has no problem contributing to local pollution due to the above listed problems, but when something comes to less wealthy counties that could improve their economic situations, Routt County is pretty quick to nix the idea.

In addition, when gas prices reach $5 a gallon and we're still not utilizing the oil we have in reserve in our oil shale deposits, you can bet that "cheap commuting labor" Steamboat loves so much will be a thing of the past. When it costs the typical services worker most of their ten bucks an hour just to get to work and back, pretty quickly there simply won't be anyone left who can afford to make the commute.

It's easy to find negative issues with any resource exploitation. But with gas prices soaring, the economy stalling, and the reality that working folks aren't going to be working if we don't find affordable oil resources, it's pretty clear that the time has come to start using this resource.

Maybe Routt County needs to clean up their own front yard and fix the problems in this valley that they have created before trying to dictate what other counties can or cannot do.


SilverSpoon 9 years ago

Crying for oil will not bring oil prices down, nor will oil shale.

Learn more about "creative" ways to extract oil:

1 barrel of oil to get two barrels out. At $40/brl it was not economical(profitable) to extract oil this way. At $110/brl they see profit in it, especially with the subsidies allowed for oil production.

Oil sands are actually easier to extract than oil shales. One difference is that oil sands, you can strip mine; and oil shale you have to either heat the rock and use steam to release the oil, or use super cooled liquid CO2 to dissolve the oil trapped in the rocks pores. Either way, it takes extreme amounts of energy to freeze or heat the ground.

The impacts can be seen right on licoln ave today. Those PraxAir liquid CO2 tankers, have 1 destination, oil shale fields and there are a lot of them running downtown daily.

On this one, the local politcos are doing the right thing. The BLM steamrolls local populations thanks to the power given to them by Bush and the big oil. A couple of years ago they were seismically exploring fruita BLM land for underground deposits. Imagine our mud season riding through oil fields that used to be our favorite trails. There are too many negatives with oil shale to name. Polluted water, Polluted Air, Congested roads.


ModernMiner 9 years ago

I'm fairly certain I read a report that said Shell completed their testing and found that they could produce a barrel of oil for roughly 36 dollars. If oil went down to 75 dollars a barrel -that's still a fairly good return on investment (depending on what the initial capital costs are).


id04sp 9 years ago

They would produce it for $36 per barrel and sell it at the going rate. that's how the system works.

Increased supply would bring prices down some, but in the current economy, it's the balance of trade reduction that would bring up the price of the dollar and reduce the price of oil on the world market.

Ironically, it might be better for Shell profit-wise to sell the crude to China and ship it out of a west coast port than to ship it to Texas or Louisiana to be refined. Depends on how the pipelines run. We know there are no refineries in California, or at least no new ones.


SilverSpoon 9 years ago

Water Quality. All high-grade western oil shale resources lie in the Colorado River drainage basin. For mining and surface retorting, the major water quality issue is the leaching of salts and toxics from spent shale. A number of approaches are available for preventing surface water contamination from waste piles, but it is not clear whether these methods represent a permanent solution that will be effective after the Summary xiii site is closed and abandoned. For in-situ retorting, inadequate information is available on the fate, once extraction operations cease, of salts and other minerals that are commingled with oil shale.


SilverSpoon 9 years ago

The steam is supposed to strip salts and toxins from the "In place extraction" when the well quits producing. Then the frozen barriers are thawed and water flows freely through the "in place extraction". I am skeptical of how they "ensure" that the salts and toxins won't flow into the ground water, then to rivers. They probably use leaky evaporation ponds then barrel the toxic waste. It is not as squeaky clean as money magazine would like you to think. Colorado can be like the exxon valdeze, It'll take 20 years to get 1/2 of the compesation for environmental damage to our state.

Correction to my last figure, Oil shale is 1 barrel in, 3.5 barrels out. An energy bargain?


fish 9 years ago

I agree with Sasha Nelson that this resource is not going anywhere and that is about the only thing that I agree with her on. I would urge the county commissoners to do a little of their own research on this issue before they sign something that would hamper the development of a resource that northwest Colorado has an abundance of. I realize that the powers to be in Routt County and Steamboat might not see a way for them to profit off of this industry so I am sure that they would want to slow it down until they can find a way to make a profit off of it. Also I understand how some might feel that they have exclusive rights to US40 but I believe that it is part of the Federal highway system and not a Steamboat street.


kunk9 9 years ago

Did ya-all read the article? No one is saying: let's not develop oil shale. They are saying: go slow, think about the costs, and together, let's make a good decision about how to move forward. The costs not only include money to develop oil shale. They include significant costs to our water, air, wildlife and land.

Colorado is seeing major resource development, mostly on the west slope. Almost 5 million acres (and growing) of public and private land have been committed to natural gas development (that doesn't include land and mineral rights owned by industry). Uranium mining is set to boom which will involve hundred of thousands of acres. Add oil shall on top of that!

I'm not saying we should not develop these resources to help our economies, provide some jobs and make some money. I'm saying lets think about what Colorado will look like if we continue to rush into developing these resources at break-neck pace (which we pretty much are).

Lets keep a little land they way it is, lets maintain some good wildlife habitat, lets keep a few places free of development, lets make sure we have clean water and air. These are all choices we can make, but don't count on industry and the Feds to make them for us. We have to ask (read make) industry and the Feds act responsibly.


SilverSpoon 9 years ago

I am glad Ritter wants to move forward with oil shale cautiously.

The previous link is propaganda from Randy Udall. It features our infamous Craig Power Station which we would need 10 more of to produce 1 million barrels/day.


Stephen Blinkenberg 9 years ago

"On Tuesday, the commissioners voted unanimously to sign a letter to Colorado's Congressional delegation. The letter, being prepared by the Colorado Environmental Coalition ..."

Did I read that right? The Commissioners voted unanimously to sigh a letter that hasn't been prepared yet?

I wonder if I can get the Cattle Market to sign a Bill of Sale that "is being prepared"?

Bad Reporting or am I missing sumin?


bubba 9 years ago

kunk9, you must be new around here, nobody reads the articles, they just read the headline and the other comments and make assertions about the content, it saves time that way.

Energy production has consistently gotten ahead of itself by saying things were cheap and made sense before knowing the costs; I think nuclear powerplants are the prime example, back when they were claiming that this was the cheapest way to make energy, nobody had calculated the cost of safely storing or disposing of the nuclear waste. Decades (and probably hundreds of billions of dollars) later, it turned out that if anyone had calculated those costs, atomic energy would not have been considered cheap at all. Now it's oil shale- there's oil in those rocks, we're not sure how much it will cost to get it out, or how much it will cost to detoxify the waste produced by getting it out, but by golly, let's get it out and worry about the true cost later. Anyone who suggests we slow down and find out how much it's going to cost must be pandering to someone, arrogant, off base and out of touch.


contrarian 9 years ago

RanchHQ: I would say it's even worse than you think in that they are signing a letter prepared for them by a special interest group. This is becoming a more common practice by politicians across the country and should be soundly condemned. From position papers, to letters like the one at issue here, to actual legislation, it is becoming common that lobbyists are preparing the documents and legislation that citizens believe are originating from elected representatives. It is a bad practice and bad policy and demonstrates a dangerous and increasing infiltration of lobbyists into the legislative process.


bigdog 9 years ago

bubba et al,

you act like this whole "oil shale" extraction is something new and un-researched! Granted, there are probably a few issue hidden under the rocks, but i had much rather spend my greenbacks here than sending them to the people who seek our destruction!

Let's not sit around debating the issues and over analyze (also know as analysis paralysis) the opportunity, let's do something, anything. PLEASE!


colowoodsman 9 years ago

nativegirl-very well put- I agree with you 100%. Are you aware that Routt Co. is also a member of the Yampa Valley Economic Development Council who's stated purpose is to "promote tourism"?


HOORGANVISOR 8 years, 12 months ago

I bet it was environmentalists that most opposed using the shale deposits because they would rather have America crippled energy-wise than productive and growing. Geothermal energy can be use to make the shale deposits more viable for a source of oil and save billions of dollars. If our economy is crippled because a handful of people oppose progress, when we need to fund vital energy research, it won't be there and this nation will be in a worst condition.


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