Utah senators slam congressional oil-shale development moratorium
A congressional moratorium on oil shale leasing and development hurts an established industry's efforts to find investors and imperils the nation's hopes for energy independence, Utah's senators said Tuesday.
Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, supporting a Bush administration proposal to enhance U.S. fossil-fuel energy production, said during a news conference at the Utah Capitol that the moratorium imposed on the Bureau of Land Management means no one knows what the rules will be for oil shale and tar sands development.
And that, in turn, means too few investors in what would be a multibillion-dollar industry that would enhance the nation's energy security, Bennett said.
"It is irresponsible, it is malicious, for us not to proceed to open it up," he said.
Bush tied his push for more fossil-fuel drilling and development to high gas prices.
Hatch, however, said that while the companies hoping to develop oil shale "are our nation's energy Minutemen," they cannot bring down the price of oil today.
"But they are going to do what it takes today to get our nation this energy in the future," Hatch said.
The BLM, acting according to requirements in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, has launched a broad oil shale and tar sand environmental analysis. Most of the oil shale is in western Colorado; all of the tar sands are in eastern Utah.
But last year, Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., managed to attach a rider to the appropriations bill that set aside the BLM's leasing program for a year to figure out how extensive leasing and development would affect the environment and the communities in the oil shale and tar sands region.
Attempts to overturn the moratorium have been unsuccessful. Salazar and Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., hope to extend the moratorium another year in hopes the resource can be developed with economic stability and environmental protection in mind.
During the news conference Tuesday, however, industry representatives said they are ready to go, and Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert dismissed those who say the unconventional energy can't be developed sensitively.
Oil Shale Exploration Co., the only Utah firm to receive one of six research, development and demonstration leases from the BLM, announced a partnership with Petrobras of Brazil and Mitsui & Co. Ltd. of Japan to study the feasibility of Petrobras' Petrosix technology on Utah oil shale on 40,000 acres of private land in eastern Utah.
OSEC's federal lease so far has allowed it to export waste rock left over from the 1980s shale bust to Alberta, Canada, for testing a different process. Both methods, however, use retorts to roast kerogen - the waxy hydrocarbon that hasn't undergone the geologic heat and pressure necessary to create petroleum - out of the shale.
Amy Hansen, an OSEC spokeswoman, said the 300 tons of shale shipped to Canada yielded 9,000 gallons of kerogen, which can be further refined into kerosene or diesel fuel.
Last year, a RAND Corp. study estimated that the region held the equivalent of 2 trillion barrels of oil, with 800 billion barrels recoverable.
That is more than triple the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia.
With current U.S. consumption of oil at 21 million barrels per day, the Rocky Mountain resource could last 400 years, the RAND study concluded.
Oil shale development requires huge amounts of water and electricity and emits tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas emission most responsible for global climate disruption.
The Utah Division of Water Resources has said Utah's share of the Colorado River could soon be fully allocated, so where the water would come from is unclear. Questions also remain regarding what oil-shale extraction would do to surface and groundwater quality.
In March, 26 conservation groups wrote a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management claiming the Bush administration's rush to develop oil shale and tar sands failed to include adequate public information about potential environmental, social and economic harm. The letter called on the BLM to focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Herbert said developing Utah's oil shale and tar sands would "unleash the power of the private sector."
"We can do it reasonably in an environmentally sensitive way," Herbert said. Anyone disputing that "is not thinking clearly," he said.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., in Jackson, Wyo., for the Western Governors Association annual conference, supports oil shale and tar sands development.
But he also joined other Western governors, including those who favor the moratorium, in addressing how to meet future energy demands in a clean manner that won't aggravate climate change.