SALT LAKE CITY — A conference room at the downtown City Library was bustling with activity Wednesday night, much in the same way an Estonian company wants to transform a vacant chunk of land into an oil-producing mecca for Utah.
"We need projects like this," said John D. Adamson, an Evanston, Wyo., resident who attended the informational meeting laying out the details for the Uintah County oil shale project.
Adamson, a geologist by trade, said it is time for the United States to wean itself from foreign oil — and if the technology is there — oil shale will help get the country there.
"North Dakota's (Bakken Play) wasn't profitable for years, and now look at it," he said, pointing to the shale oil boom in that state.
Adamson, as well as project critics, turned out for the Bureau of Land Management meeting detailing information about the utility right-of-way Enefit American Oil needs for its project. The company would need to installpower lines and pipelines for water for a utility corridor that crosses Bureau of Land Management land, necessitating an environmental review of the potential impacts.
Utah Tar Sands Resistance, a grassroots community organization, also had its information on poster boards in the meeting room, decrying the project as "dirty oil" that will despoil the environment.
"My sincere belief is that when the average person learns about these projects, they don't want them," Raphael Courdray said. "People get duped, or sucked in by these projects that ultimately are a failure."
Enefit American Oil has leases to more than 30,000 acres of land south of Vernal, with two thirds of that privately owned.
The company, a subsidiary of Eesti Energia in Estonia, has the most significant landholdings in Utah for oil shale, land which holds 2.6 billion barrels. The goal is to be producing 50,000 barrels of oil per day that will be delivered to a Salt Lake City refinery.
Company officials have said they believe they can get 1.2 billion barrels of oil out of the south section of their property over a 30 years and reclaim the land as they surface mine from area to area. If all necessary permits are obtained, the company plans full production by 2024.
In political circles, the project is earning praise from key leaders.
"It's an exciting project that has the potential to create significant revenue and jobs here in Utah and help with energy independence nationwide," said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, whose congressional district is host to the project.
"As with other responsible energy developers in our state, including other oil shale companies, I think their efforts to be good neighbors in the basin and good stewards of the land are commendable. I'm impressed by their outreach, their expertise, and their plans and efforts so far.”
Cody Stewart, Gov. Gary Herbert's energy adviser, said Enefit's project has the potential to dramatically change Utah's energy landscape.
"It's a game changer," he said. "It has the potential to make Utah a significant player on the energy map."
Stewart said Enefit has been actively meeting with both critics and public policy makers to keep the public informed.
"They are going through the front door," he said. "They're not trying to sneak in. They're being transparent."
Utah's oil shale is within the largest oil shale deposits in the world, located in the Green River Formation that also covers parts of Colorado and Wyoming.
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