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Interior Department Finishes Look-Before-You-Leap Oil Shale Plan

By Tom Kenworthy  

"Interior Department Finishes Look-Before-You-Leap Oil Shale Plan"

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In a sharp contrast to the Bush administration’s eager embrace of commercial oil shale development, the Department of Interior today unveiled a final plan that calls for careful research into the feasibility and environmental issues surrounding oil shale, and opens about only half as much federal lands to potential leasing for commercial development.

“This plan maintains a strong focus on research and development to promote new technologies that may eventually lead to safe and responsible commercial development of these domestic energy resources,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in announcing the final plans. “It will help ensure that we acquire critically important information about these technologies and their potential effects on the landscape, especially our scarce water resources in the West.”

Oil shale, not to be confused with shale oil in places like North Dakota which is actual oil trapped in underground rock formations, is actually a sedimentary rock containing kerogen. It must be heated and put under high pressure, either underground or after being mined and brought to the surface, to produce a petroleum liquid. Successful commercialization of oil shale in the U.S. has been an unrealized dream for many decades.

The Obama administration plan finalized today makes available about 700,000 acres of land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming for potential oil shale leasing. That compares to 1,340,774 acres in the Bush plan.

One of the key controversies surrounding oil shale development in arid areas of the West that are already being hit hard by drought is its high water demands. The Government Accountability Office in 2010 estimated that oil shale development could require between one barrel and 12 barrels of water for each barrel of oil. The agency said more precise estimates were not possible because the technologies are so unproven.

“Rather than gamble our water on costly oil shale speculation, this plan protects our farms and our food,” said Bill Midcap of the Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union.

— Tom Kenworthy is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund

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14 Responses to Interior Department Finishes Look-Before-You-Leap Oil Shale Plan

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    Salazar should not even be considering oil shale, and the same is true for fracked gas and Powder River coal.

    Obama and Salazar have continued the Cheney energy policy, and a few tweaks about environmental concerns won’t redeem them. The Democrats as currently constituted are failures, and the notion that we can awaken their consciences is a dream.

    • Sasparilla says:

      Absolutely on target Mike. The Obama administration has added nice language and a green veneer (green energy support) to the policies of oblivion of the previous administration – as they know it takes away a huge political bat the GOP can use on them (particularly when oil looks only to go higher in the future).

      This stuff looks horrid, are we going to be strip mining this stuff out of the ground – ala the tar sands?

      Does anyone else just get the feeling we’re not going stop until we’ve sucked, dug and of course burned every last bit of petroleum out of the ground?

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      It is exactly the same in Australia, where the Rudd and Gillard so-called ‘Labor’ regimes have kept almost all the vile Howard era programs intact, or even expanded them. Most of the deviations from Howardite policy were nothing more than cynical PR gestures. ‘Democracy without choices’.

  2. How did this post even make it onto Climate “Progress”?

    Hansen is clear that if Carter had succeeded in commercializing oil shale like the US tried back then we would be toast today.

    How can humanity possibly start a new tar sands style climate disaster and stay below even 4C? This is the very opposite of what must be done.

    There is one typo: “Successful commercialization of oil shale in the U.S. has been an unrealized dream for many decades.” That should be “nightmare” not “dream”.

    I am appalled.

    • Dan Ives says:

      Well said.
      It’d be nice to see Joe reply to some of the criticism of posts like this. There was another one last week touting Obama’s environmental record because he was protecting land and creating new monuments totaling approximately 4% of the land area he had leased to oil and gas in his first term. It, too, was appalling.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Demopublican propaganda. ‘The American Way of Life is not negotiable’.

  3. Somehow team Obama — after years in power — still can’t manage to put any limits of any kind on climate pollution but they can manage to give yet another big fat thumbs up to creating an new super-polluting carbon extraction monster.

    We know team Obama can read the IEA studies showing that such huge new fossil fuel infrastructure expansions will lock us all into climate chaos. How they can look their kids in the eye as they ensure a future of misery for them is beyond me.

  4. Dan Ives says:

    Yay for the Obama administration! Did you guys hear that? His administration is ONLY leasing 700,000 acres of land for this insane, dirty, water-hoarding, climate-destroying practice! The Big Bad Bush administration wanted to double that amount of land! Take that, GOP!
    /sarcasm off/
    Yet another propaganda piece appearing on this blog. Here we have Mr. Kenworthy shouting from the rooftops at how the Obama administration has made a sharp departure from the horrible Bush policies while he conceals the fact that there’s absolutely nothing to celebrate here regarding the climate and the future of our descendents. He’s all but whispering in your ear, “See? Team Blue is the lesser of two evils. Obama is looking before he leaps!”
    Seriously, Joe, how did your editorial eye allow this celebratory post to exist, especially with the link at the bottom which demonstrates how insane oil shale development is – on any scale? How can that headline possibly have passed your scrutiny? Leasing 700,000 acres to this destructive practice is “looking before you leap?”
    Are you serious?

  5. Sasparilla says:

    Another absolutely discouraging policy choice by the Obama administration – it screams climate change just doesn’t matter to them (which is consistent for the administration going back to the 2 tar sands pipelines Nobel Prize Winner,for climate change promises no less, Obama approved in 2009).

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      You are meant to be discouraged, and not turn out in 2014. Expect more sand to be kicked in your eyes, particularly just before the election. It is part of the plan.

  6. Dick Smith says:

    We need to ask Obama and every Member of Congress some basic questions:

    1. Are you committed to holding global warming below 2C as we promised at Copenhagen? If not, how high would you allow global temperatures to rise over pre-industrial levels?

    2. How many gigatons of Kyoto-gas CO2 eqivalaents do you believe humans can safely emit from 2000 (or from today) to 2050?

    3. What share of that Kyoto-gas CO2e budget should the United States emit from 2000 (or today) to 2050?

    3. What peer-reviewed articles are you relying upon to form your opinion, and what scientists do you rely on to advise you on this issue?

    Would CP readers ask these questions of their Members of Congress and report back what response they got?

  7. Jeremy Boak says:

    Because most of the 700,000 acres is of such low grade that it is unlikely ever to be economic, and because most of the best acreage was not even included, this highly restrictive approach could perhaps be argued as beneficial to the climate.
    Shale oil is, as it has been for more than one hundred years, the term for the product of retorting of oil shale. Formations like the Bakken should be referred to by a different name, like oil-bearing shale, and the product shale-hosted oil to avoid this confusion.
    Evidently the editors did not see fit to post my longer discussion of the unfortunate choice of the Administration to discourage a potentially valuable contribution to our energy future. Perhaps this was because it did not toe the party line of this site.
    Successful commercialization of oil shale in the U. S. is being actively discouraged by this approach, despite the purely political line taken by Mr. Salazar. So, it is being left to other countries to commercialize first.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Have you any children, Jeremy, and, if so, exactly what sort of life do you expect them to experience if this sort of deranged project injects vast quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere? Do you deny anthropogenic climate destabilisation caused by the emissions of greenhouse gases?