Senate backs oil shale development
The federal energy bill that passed the Senate Tuesday could give a kick start to oil shale development on the West Slope. Under the amendment, the federal Department of Energy would be charged with completing an inventory of oil shale resources before leasing public lands for research and development.Commercial leasing would not go forward until DOE prepares a programmatic environmental impact statement that would consider environmental and economic impacts.The bill received strong bipartisan support, passing 82-12.Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), who helped craft the oil shale amendment in the energy bill, said he wants development to proceed slowly.”I want to avoid a headlong plunge into oil shale development without research and development,” he said. “It’s also important to know if the technology is available to develop oil shale in a commercially viable way.”Shell Oil is experimenting with an in-situ process in the Piceance Basin south of Meeker that would extract oil by heating the enclosing rock formation. Shell has said it does not expect its technology to be commercially viable for seven to 10 years. The pace of development outlined in the amendment is considerably slower than a plan proposed by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) who pushed for an aggressive program of oil shale development that would get under way in the next 18 months.”The oil shale provisions in the Senate bill include some sensible, appropriately cautious provisions, among them requiring a systematic environmental impact statement with attendant public review … and analysis of potential impacts,” said Steve Smith, spokesman for the Wilderness Society. He also applauded the provision for “careful small scale research before considering expanded development.”We are pleased that the Senate bill is pretty good, primarily in that it is not as horrible as the House of Representatives version, which includes extensive subsidies, pollution exemptions, and compromise of public lands protection for the already booming and highly profitable energy companies,” Smith added.Salazar said he wants to develop the resource in a thoughtful way “so we don’t have to go through another Black Sunday when oil shale went bust on the West Slope.” Exxon pulled out of its Colony Oil Shale Project on Sunday, May 2, 1982, leaving 2,000 people without jobs and precipitating an economic bust that still reverberates in Garfield County.The bill now proceeds to a conference committee aimed at ironing out differences between the Senate and House bills. Then both the Senate and House must vote on the bill a second time before it goes to the President’s desk for signature or veto.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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