U.S. House passes energy bill
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” The U.S. House passed a Democratic energy bill Tuesday night that would lift a ban that prohibits the Bureau of Land Management from issuing final commercial oil shale leasing regulations.
Passage of the bill in the House comes as the BLM is set to issue a record of decision later this year that would open up about 360,000 acres in Colorado to possible oil shale development.
Many Republicans have demanded the removal of the oil shale ban ” often called the oil shale moratorium ” and have included that provision in their own energy legislation. However, House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, maintained that there was no new “oil shale drilling” in the Democratic energy bill during House debate of the bill Tuesday night.
The oil shale moratorium has been supported by Rep. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., and Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa. It is scheduled to expire at the end of this month. Both Ken Salazar and Udall have previously said they would fight to keep that ban in place.
The energy bill the House approved Tuesday, and if agreed to by the U.S. Senate, would give Colorado legislators the option to decide whether the BLM may issue oil shale leases in the state. But the bill wouldn’t prevent the agency from preparing an environmental impact statement for a possible oil shale lease sale in Colorado.
The oil shale provisions in the Democratic energy bill were spearheaded by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, who supports oil shale development if viable technology to recover the resource can be demonstrated. Utah’s two U.S. senators have also called for the repeal of the oil shale moratorium.
A joint statement from Udall and Rep. Salazar said the legislation’s language that gave the future of oil shale development over to the states was a “safety valve” that would “ensure that regardless of the administration’s desire to rush ahead with oil shale development at all costs, Colorado and other states can control the pace of development.”
Both said questions about the impacts on water and local communities need to be addressed before any commercial oil shale leasing occurs.
“Until those questions are answered, we do not believe that the federal government should rush ahead with oil shale leasing,” said John Salazar and Udall in the prepared statement.
The House energy bill also includes a provision that would allow oil drilling off the nation’s Atlantic and Pacific coastlines ” but only 50 or more miles out. That is well beyond where most of the estimated 18 billion barrels of recoverable oil is believed to be located.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the bill “represents a new direction in energy policy” as it also funnels billions of dollars collected from new taxes and royalties on large oil companies to promote alternative fuels and energy efficiency in an attempt to move the country away from fossil fuels.
But Republicans called it a ruse to provide political cover to Democrats feeling pressure to support more drilling at a time of high gas prices and maintained it would not lead to more oil production.
Even before House passed the bill “which was approved on a 236-189 vote ” the White House said President Bush would veto it if it passes Congress.
The political furor over oil shale has erupted this campaign season. That’s largely from Republicans who say the United States must tap the vast amount of oil that may be extracted from oil shale in areas of Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.
A RAND report from 2005 said there may be about 1 trillion barrels of oil in the Piceance Basin ” which stretches across Mesa, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.
“(That means) this 1,200-square-mile area in western Colorado holds as much oil as the entire world’s proven oil reserves,” the report said.
But any development of that resource has many environmentalists and the Environmental Protection Agency warning of adverse impacts to air and water quality.
Many officials, including Gov. Bill Ritter, have expressed concern about the possible water and power consumption needed to drive oil shale development in the west. They also question the logic of moving ahead with final regulations for a oil shale leasing program when companies are struggling to find a way to extract the resource on a commercial scale.
The inclusion of language to remove the oil shale moratorium in the Democratic energy bill drew immediate criticism from environmental groups.
David Alberswerth, senior policy advisor for the Washington-based Wilderness Society, said the group was opposed to any move to lift the moratorium, citing deficiencies in draft oil shale regulations the BLM issued in July.
“It is clear that the Interior Department is not ready to engage in a commercial (oil shale) leasing program if you look closely at their proposal,” Alberswerth said. “The rules are a real disservice to American taxpayers for one thing. There are statements in there that (the BLM) doesn’t even know what product to assess a royalty on.”
He added that those draft regulations included statements that oil shale extractive technology is still in its rudimentary stages and that the lack of a domestic oil shale industry makes it speculative to project the demand for oil shale leases.
“With all those omissions in their own rules, why in the world are they going forward with a commercial leasing program?” Alberswerth asked. “We don’t even have the results of the research and development leases they issued a couple of years ago.”
Garfield County commissioners on Monday voted to draft a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior in support of the BLM issuing final oil shale leasing regulations. Commissioners John Martin and Larry McCown voted in favor of that move, while Commissioner Tresi Houpt voted against it.
McCown said the four companies who are conducting oil shale extraction research on the research and development leases in Colorado and Utah need final regulations to know what the royalty rates might be. Those companies would also have to know of any possible costs associated with oil shale, like potential reclamation costs, he said.
“I don’t know how they can logically look at the economic feasibility (without those regulations),” McCown said.
McCown also questioned whether the state could even control any future oil shale leasing in Colorado, as proposed in the current energy bill. He said that provision could make oil shale subject to the political winds of Colorado.
That is a scenario that could have economic consequences for the area, McCown said. Future oil shale investments and workers might go Utah, instead of Colorado, because of the state’s friendlier political environment toward potential oil shale development, McCown said.
A call to the governor’s spokesman requesting comment regarding the House legislation was not immediately returned Tuesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117
Post Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
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