The following is a statement from Ted Zukoski, an attorney at Earthjustice, on the publication today of the Bureau of Land Management’s draft proposal and environmental impact statement (EIS) concerning oil shale development on federal lands in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. Earthjustice represents a dozen conservation groups who challenged the Bush administration’s premature give-away of 2 million acres of public land for oil shale commercial leasing.
Oil shale is oil locked in rocks that must be heated to temperatures exceeding 750 degrees in order to ready for refinement. Massive amounts of water, already precious and dwindling in the arid west where oil shale rocks are found, is also needed to extract the oil.
While millions of tons of oil shale rock lie beneath the surface of lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, no process has ever succeeded in turning the rock into petroleum on a commercial basis, despite efforts to do so that stretch back a century. Given this history of failure, some say that "Oil shale has a fantastic future—it always has, and it always will."
Mr. Zukoski’s statement:
"Commercial oil shale is not ready for prime-time. It’s generating zero energy in the U.S. and few jobs, and that hasn’t changed since President Reagan killed bloated federal subsidies for oil shale three decades ago.
"The Interior Department’s proposed action as identified in the EIS rightly focuses on research and development, just as industry is doing now. Under the Department’s approach, ongoing and new research on thousands of acres of federal lands still has a green light, so does research on over 250,000 acres of privately-controlled land in Utah and Colorado.
"This is not a roll back. Since turning oil shale into liquid petroleum has never been done commercially in the U.S. despite a century of trying, there’s simply no commercial oil shale development to roll back.
"If anyone ever figures out how to bake oil from rocks, we’ll need to make sure that it’s done in a way that protects the West’s great heritage—our communities, water, and wildlife. The Interior Department’s proposal appears to provide a path for doing that. Moving ahead without consideration for the huge amounts of water, energy, and land that could be consumed would be reckless and wrong.
"Conservation groups, including Earthjustice, will be taking a careful look at the hundreds of pages of new analysis prepared by the Interior Department, and providing comments to the agency by the May 4 deadline."