I had never been on a small plane before so, I was a bit anxious about how I might handle it. Traveling from Grand Junction where we had stayed the night before, by 8 am we reach the Rifle Regional Air Field to meet Bruce Gordon, our air guide. Bruce is the President of EcoFlight, a tour company that offers flights to provide first hand overviews of our country to better understand and encourage protection of the remaining wildlands & roadless areas of America. Learning more about Bruce, my fears of my first flight on a small plane began to ebb a little.
Before the flight we gather around some maps to help us understand our flight path what we were about to view on BLM of past, present and future research development and discovery (RD&D) sites for oil shale and how these lands intersect those already involved in past, present and future oil and gas production. In order to stay on schedule, the first flight group was gathered, loaded up and in the air by 8:15 am. Not wanting to make a big deal out of my Cessna infancy, I kept myself calm and convinced myself that all would be fine. After a smooth take off and once in the air, I settled in and enjoyed the adventure. I was excited to be a part of this experience and have my eyes opened to what the oil and gas companies are up to on our public lands.
As we flew over town to reach the Roan Plateau we began to see roads leading to platform after platform in use, waiting to be used, or waiting for reclamation. At first glance, each site is far from the other and seem relatively non-invasive, but the reality of the situation is that oil shale is not the clean fuel answer to our energy issues and it will threaten the ecosystem, health and wellbeing of those human and wildlife communities surrounding, and compromise already threatened resources like our air and water qualities.
Here is what I took away from this experience. Oil shale does not actually contain oil, but a waxy crude substance called kerogen. When the shale is heated to extreme temperatures, generally using a tremendous amount of electricity, it will melt down and produce kerogen, which can later be turned into diesel fuel. Oil shale is not a clean fuel and has the potential to emit more damaging pollutants and greenhouse gases than the crude oils in use today. Once extracted, a large amount of water is needed for commercial production of oil shale to flush through and clean the cavity created from the extraction. Platforms disrupt migration patterns and corridors of deer and elk and fragment habitats. Not to mention the energy returned on energy invested in order to extract a barrel varies, but has not been higher than 2:1. I would hate to see my “family member” the Roan Plateau and all of the wildlife that call it home to become
any more industrialized than she already is.