Keith Johnson, Deseret News
Romit Bhattacharya, center, CEO of Oil Tech, explains the process of processing oil from shale to Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., left, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Utah Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert at an Oil Tech shale processing site 40 miles south of Vernal in June 2006.

BOULDER, Colo. — A report released Wednesday by a regional conservation organization urges policymakers to resist pursuit of oil shale development, saying the natural resource should stay where it is — in the rock.

"Oil Shale 2050," released by Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates, details critical links between the resource development and its use of water in the thirsty West, as well as what the group says is an unproven technology that should be abandoned in pursuit of clean energy alternatives.

"The finite research and development dollars available should be invested in clean energy solutions," said Mike Chiropolos, the group's chief counsel of its lands programs.

Chriopolos and two other representatives from the organization spoke to the report's findings in a Wednesday teleconference, noting that after 100 years of trying to pull deposits from the ground, the industry is no closer to success.

The trio pointed to the late February decision by Chevron to give up its experimental lease for oil shale in Colorado, instead opting to direct its three staffers on that project to work in other areas. They said they hope that sends a signal to other would-be developers.

Release of the report comes in advance of a series of meetings the Bureau of Land Management is hosting next week that detail its consideration of opening public lands for commercial leasing, exploration and development of oil shale and tar sands resources in three states: Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

Meetings on the draft environmental impact statement include 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. sessions in Vernal on March 13 at the Westin Plaza Hotel and March 14 at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City.

Western Resource Advocates' attorney, Rob Duboc, said the contemplation of federal lands becoming available in Utah for oil shale research comes on top of an already ill-advised path state policy makers are marching down.

"In the state of Utah, the state has made it clear it is open for business for the production of oil shale when it is nothing more than a concept," the Salt Lake City attorney said, adding that it is an "experiment" the state yearns will be someday profitable.

Duboc detailed the Red Leaf operation on 17,000 acres of private and state trust lands in Uintah County that has permits before a pair of state regulatory agencies. A permit related to water quality issues is pending before the state Department of Environmental Quality, which has held up the permit before the state Board of Oil, Gas and Mining until that issue is resolved.

"What is clear is the company and the state have little idea of the impact on water and the environment," he said. "There are many more questions than answers."

Red Leaf Resources officials have said they anticipate they will be ready for commercial production of 9,500 barrels a day by sometime this year.

But critics such as Western Resource Advocates say development of Utah's rich oil and tar sands deposits — which contain as much as 100 million barrels of oil — would be folly in light of the demands on the already strained Colorado River system, potentially depriving states of critical water supplies into the future.

The report notes that 10-year average consumptive use of water in the Colorado River Basin since 2003 exceeds the 10-year supply, and municipal and industrial water demand is projected to grow in Utah anywhere from 71 percent to 115 percent by 2050.

"Water is the defining resource in the West," Chiropolos said. "There is an enormous uncertainty of what the impacts are of utilizing large quantities of that supply."

The group said it picked the year 2050 as a focal point in its research to envision what the West, energy demands and sources, as well as water supply, may look like for the teenagers of today.

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