BLM to hold meetings on shale mining plan in Utah

VERNAL, Utah — Federal land managers will hold a pair of meetings this week on an Estonian company’s plans to begin shale mining in eastern Utah.

Enefit American Oil, a subsidiary of Eesti Energia, is seeking approval from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to install utility lines for its project to produce shale oil, a liquid fuel, in the Uintah Basin.

In 2011, Enefit bought the mineral rights across a large tract of land in eastern Utah, believed to contain 2.6 billion barrels of recoverable shale oil.

Though Enefit has yet to obtain the numerous federal, state and local permits to begin shale mining, the company is optimistic it will begin mine construction in Utah in 2017, with the first oil being extracted in 2020. Its ultimate target is to produce 50,000 barrels of shale oil per day.

Environmentalists told the Deseret News they’re concerned about the proposed project’s impact on water in arid Utah and on air quality in a region already plagued by winter ozone problems.

“What are the potential impacts on existing business? What are the potential impacts on human health and the environment, on the ability of the state to ensure that water will be available? All those have to be discussed and understood,” said David Abelson, oil shale policy adviser for Western Resource Advocates.

Estonia gets more than 90 percent of its electricity needs from oil shale — by far the world’s most shale-dependent country. The country of 1.3 million people now hopes to hopes to bring oil shale out of its dormancy in North America.

Rikki Hrenko, chief executive officer of Enefit American, said the Utah project would not involve controversial fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, which is used in mining oil or tar sands.

“We’re very confident we can do this in an environmentally responsible manner,” she told the Deseret News.

The project is expected to create 1,200 construction jobs and 2,000 full-time jobs once full production begins.

The BLM will conduct an environmental impact study and is seeking suggestions on specific issues that should be part of the analysis.

The agency’s meetings will be held Tuesday in Vernal and Wednesday in Salt Lake City. Both meetings will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.