By Amy Joi O’Donoghue
SALT LAKE CITY — State regulators are giving the go-ahead to what could be one of the largest oil shale mining operations in Utah by granting a permit for the company closest to getting the material out of the ground.
Red Leaf Resources is proposing to begin large-scale oil shale extraction on close to 1,500 acres in the Uintah Basin and ship the extracted oil to customers in Utah, Wyoming and in the the Gulf Coast region.
The state Division of Oil, Gas and Mining approved the Delaware- based company’s permit last week in a decision that has already been appealed by the environmental group Living Rivers.
Board members will act on the appeal in June and can either uphold the division’s decision or deny the permit.
The company said it requires just less than a half barrel of water per barrel of oil produced. The permit says water is not necessary in the actual technology the company uses, but for dust control and to meet on-site worker demand.
Mining will take place over stages, with 320 acres impacted in the first year and then proceeding in chunks until the entire 1,500 acres are mined. Red Leaf has said it will be ready to hit the production stage some time later this year, churning out an estimated 9,500 barrels a day.
But oil shale extraction has raised the ire of environmentalists and other critics who say it is an unproven technology with severe consequences to the land and a reckless use of the state’s water resources.
As part of the requirements for the permit, Red Leaf Resources has an environmental mitigation plan in place to revegetate the area and put in safeguards for the disturbance of wildlife such as nesting raptors or sage grouse. The company also has a groundwater permit for a network of wells pending before the state Division of Water Quality and has rights to 50 acre feet of water.
The Bureau of Land Management is in the midst of hosting scoping meetings in three Western states on oil shale, with the potential of 1.9 million acres of public land being opened to commercial development on public land.
Two of those meetings are slated in the Uintah Basin in late April.