Plan for US Oil Shale Development Announced

In a final plan issued last week, the Department of Interior (DOI) is closing off 1.6 million acres of federal land from oil shale development.

It is exempting wilderness lands and important endangered species habitats from development.

The plan now enters a 30-day comment period and then a 2-month process that ensures it is consistent with state and local policies.

The plan leaves open 677,000 acres for oil shale development in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and 130,000 acres in Utah for  tar sands production.

Oil shale is actually a precursor to oil, called kerogen, and requires insane amounts of energy to turn it into oil, more than tar sands. No one really knows how to cost effectively develop it, kind of like "clean coal."

"The proposed plan supports the Administration’s all-of-the-above approach to explore the full potential our nation’s domestic energy resources and to develop innovative technology and techniques that will lead to safe and responsible production of resources, including oil shale and tar sands, which industry recognizes are years from being commercially viable, but require RD&D today," says Blake Androff of DOI. 

DOI intends to grant smaller research-and-development oil shale leases than planned under the Bush administration, with requirements for environmental safeguards and progress milestones.  

Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) expressed concerns about the potential impact of shale oil extraction in a region with scarce water resources, but said he believes the potential for that development need to be researched.

President GW Bush had opened over 2 million acres to development in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, virtually without any environmental safeguards.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) describes oil shale this way: it involves separating hydrocarbons bound up in organic-rich, sedimentary rock found largely in the western US. Extracting it requires massive amounts of electricity, often from coal-fired power plants that spew a smorgasbord of pollutants, including carbon dioxide, that fuels climate change. Oil shale production can generate more than twice the amount of carbon pollution than conventional gasoline.

"The process of oil shale extraction, which is akin to literally squeezing oil out of solid rock, incurs substantial environmental impacts for air, land, wildlife, and water resources. 30 million people from Wyoming to Southern California who depend on the Colorado River as a major source of water supply, including farmers who produce 15% of our nation’s crops, could face unprecedented water shortages.  And if that was not bad enough, oil shale extraction also requires enormous amounts of energy to heat the oil shale, which basically defeats the whole purpose of developing a new energy source if you have to put more energy into extraction versus the total energy that is returned," says Bobby McEnaney, in a NRDC blog.

But "by significantly reducing the acreage of wilderness potentially available for leasing, Secretary Salazar is laying out a creative, thoughtful and more responsible approach in managing some of our most precious resources," says Bobby McEnaney, senior lands analyst at NRDC.

In September, the US moved a step close to opening our first large scale tar sands mine.

Two thirds of all proven fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground if the world is serious about avoiding dangerous climate change, says the International Energy Agency in its World Energy Outlook 2012 report released today.

In 2011, fossil fuel subsidies grew 30% over the previous year and now amount to more than half a trillion dollars, says Dr. Stephan Singer, global director of energy policy for the World Wildlife Fund.

"If those subsidies were redirected into pro-poor programs or renewable energy access, world governments could still stay below 2 degrees warming and provide access to clean and sustainable energy for the three billion people worldwide who have no or only dirty energy," he says.

Read NRDC’s report, Oil Shale by the Numbers: Dirty Fuels Won’t Solve America’s Energy Crisis: 

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