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Public Input Sought on Oil Shale in CO

February 8, 2012

DENVER – Two competing plans for the development of oil shale in the West are making their way through Washington, D.C. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is seeking public input on a plan to open about 500,000 acres of land for oil shale research and development, to test the viability and environmental impact of extraction processes.

It is a scaled down proposal from an initial BLM plan, with about 90 percent less land available for research. Bill Midcap, director of regional action for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, says he's worried about the effects of this type of drilling on the arid West.

"This could use three barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced. If we're talking about producing 100,000 to a million barrels of oil every day, that's going to be a huge impact on water."

Meanwhile, a competing plan proposed by Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-5th Dist.) made its way out of a House committee last week. The PIONEERS Act opens up nearly two-million acres of public land for oil shale development.

Critics say the Lamborn bill is too expansive and moves too quickly; it mandates commercial leasing on 125,000 acres of public lands by 2016 even though the technology isn't in place. Fellow Colorado Rep. Scott Tipton (R-3rd Dist.) added an amendment to the PIONEERS Act which he says will balance the environmental and economic impacts of oil shale on communities with America's energy needs.

"We've see a boom/bust cycle before, which we simply can't afford, where the communities have to pick up a lot of the infrastructure costs and then, if it doesn't work out, the communities are still left holding the bag."

Tipton says his amendment will help protect Colorado's water as well - although Midcap says the House committee, including Tipton, voted against requiring a study on oil shale's impact on agriculture and drinking water before the PIONEERS Act takes effect. He worries that farmers will end up paying the price for oil shale development.

"Excess water supplies in the state are being traded on the backbone of agriculture."

Public input on the BLM plan is due by May 4; the BLM's information about the proposal is online. There is no date yet on the PIONEERS Act vote.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO