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SALT LAKE CITY — The first of seven meetings in three Western states to get input on potential tar sands and oil shale development begins today at the Little America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City.

Hosted by the Bureau of Land Management, the seven "scoping meetings" are designed to gather comments and analysis that will be incorporated into a environmental impact statement as the agency takes a fresh look at what lands may be suitable for development.

At issue are federal lands managed by the agency in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming — with as much as 1.9 million acres potentially available for commercial oil shale projects and 431,224 acres on the table for tar sands leasing and development.

The public participation process will revisit 2008 resource management plans issued under the Bush administration and incorporate land use decisions that need to be made in light of any new technology and potential impacts to the environment, according to the agency.

The analysis also will draw on what projects should be contemplated in light of their effects on historic and cultural resources within the areas planned for potential development.

Oil shale and tar sands development projects are not without controversy, giving rise to concern among environmentalists, farmers and others who fear water use requirements — plus uncertainty over commercial viability — combine to make them a bad investment.

At a Monday teleconference hosted by Colorado-based Resource Media, one critic said interest in oil shale and tar sands development has understandably received a renewed push because of gasoline prices approaching $4 a gallon.

Such temptations for development should be resisted, stressed Randy Udall, director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency in western Colorado.

"Oil shale is a much misunderstood resource," he said. "It is the petroleum equivalent of fool's gold."

Udall said even small-scale production of oil shale resources that could turn out 10,000 barrels a day are estimated to be at least 10 years down the road and would require a billion dollar investment.

Andrew Logan, who heads up a national network of "sustainability-based" investors, said such developments carry huge environmental liabilities and are prohibitively expensive.

"It is not like an economic slam dunk by any means," he said. "It is more like a Hail Mary shot from the half court."

Tuesday's Salt Lake meetings are in the Wyoming Conference Room at the Little America Hotel, 500 S. Main, from 1 to 4 p.m. and from 6 to 9 p.m. For more information, call 801-596-5800.

Other meetings are:

 April 27, Holiday Inn Hotel, 838 Westwood Blvd., Price, from 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. in the San Rafael/Skyline meeting room. Information, 435-637-8880.

 April 28, Uintah Basin Applied Technology Center, 450 N. 2000 West, Vernal, from 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m., in multiuse rooms 1, 2 and 3. Information, 435-725-7100.

 April 29, BLM Rock Springs Field Office, Wyoming, 280 Highway 1919 North, from 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m.

 May 3, Colorado Mountain College, West Garfield campus, 3695 Airport Road, main auditorium, Rifle, Colo., from 1 to 4 p.m., and from 6 to 9 p.m.

 May 4, Denver West Marriott, 1717 Denver West Blvd., Golden, Colo., from 1 to 4 p.m. and from 6 to 9 p.m.

 May 5, The Holiday Inn, 204 W. Fox Farm Road, Cheyenne, Wyo., from 1 to 4 p.m. and from 6 to 9 p.m.

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