Estonian company gives up on Utah oil shale leases

Sep 15, 2023

An Estonian oil company has given up on plans to mine oil shale from national public lands in Utah. Enefit notified the Bureau of Land Management that it will relinquish its existing exploration leases and proposed a plan to clean up its research and development work there in the coming months.

Extracting oil from shale rock requires large amounts of water, andalthough Enefit still holds rights to shale on private and state lands in Utah, it’s not clear that the company will ever hold enough water rights to successfully mine oil shale. Enefit had sold the rights to 11,000 acre-feet of water to the owners of a nearby coal-fired power plant for just $10, a move that conservation groups described to CWP’s The Landscape podcast as a clumsy attempt to avoid Utah’s use-it-or-lose-it water laws.

Under an agreement with Grand Canyon Trust, the power plant owners agreed to not use those water rights for any kind of fossil fuel production. Without water rights, the future of oil shale in Utah appears dim.

“This settlement ensures that this very large water right can’t be siphoned from the Upper Colorado River Basin to develop oil shale or other fossil fuels,” said Grand Canyon Trust attorney Michael Toll, the architect of the water rights settlement. “Between the settlement and the abandonment of the federal lease, we’re hopeful that Enefit’s oil shale plans may finally be gone for good.”

A road map for fixing hard rock mining

The Biden administration released its long-awaited interagency working group report on mining reform this week, recommending that Congress overhaul the 151-year-old law that governs hard rock mining in the U.S. The report includes more than 60 recommendations on how to boost clean energy production while improving environmental safeguards and increasing engagement with communities and Tribes.

Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Beaudreau, who chaired the working group, told reporters that the current process “is proving to be a recipe for local opposition, litigation and protracted permitting delays. I’m not saying we need to rewrite America’s mining laws every century, but maybe every other century.

The report was met with support from conservation groups, which stressed the need for urgent action in Congress and at federal agencies.

“Irresponsible mining is one of the biggest threats to Western lands,” said Center for Western Priorities Policy Director Rachael Hamby. “The mines of the 20th century polluted waterways, poisoned communities, and left scars all over the West. We can have clean energy and healthy Western lands and communities, but only if we update our mining laws and regulations for the 21st century.”

Quick hits

Endangered species rule to face challenges from all sides


Conservation groups sue to force BLM to measure rangeland health

High Country News

Interagency working group recommends overhauling 1872 mining law

Washington Post | KUNC | Reuters | KJZZ

Why hunters and anglers support Arizona’s newest national monument

Arizona Republic

Agreement opens up public access to 99,000 acres of land in Montana

Billings Gazette

Bill to improve wildfire treatment reporting passes House

NBC News

Opinion: Modernized oil and gas rules protect taxpayers and public health


National parks, public lands go fee-free for Public Lands Day on Sept. 23

USA Today

Quote of the day

The clean energy transition cannot occur on the backs of Indigenous people. As the Biden administration supports the expansion of domestic mining, it is imperative that these modest reforms are implemented immediately and that Indigenous voices have a full seat at the table.”

—Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Verlon Jose, Washington Post

Picture This

A group of smiling environmental advocates on a beautiful cliff overlooking a river valley.CWP meets CWP! The Center for Western Priorities team traveled to Colorado’s West Slope this week to learn about efforts to protect the Dolores River canyon country. Scott Braden of the Colorado Wildlands Project was our guide to the ecological, historical, and cultural sites in need of permanent protection. Thanks for the tour, Scott!

Photo: Aaron Weiss

Featured image: Outcrop of the upper Green River Formation lacustrine deposits along Evacuation Creek, Uintah County, Utah. Utah Geological Survey