Lamborn wants to force Salazar’s hand on oil shale with PIONEER Act

Republican Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn recently introduced a bill that would reinstate the Bush administration’s midnight oil shale leasing regulations that were quickly reversed by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in the first month’s of the Obama administration.

Besides winning the award for the most convoluted legislative acronym, Lamborn’s Protecting Investment in Oil shale the Next generation of Environment, Energy, and Resource security (PIONEER) Act, H.R. 2540, comes at a time when Colorado officials are skeptically asking for more accountability from current oil shale leases.

Five research and development leases were issued for federal lands in Colorado in 2005 (and one in Utah), but now state officials want to see what kind of results oil and gas companies are getting on those parcels before recommending another round of research and development leases as laid out in the Bush administration regulations.

The 11th-hour Bush regulations also outlined a royalty rate starting at 5 percent if commercial production ever begins, which Salazar questioned when he rolled back the new oil shale regs in February.

Critics of oil shale production — which involves super-hearting shale and rock that contains organic kerogen in order to extract oil that can then be refined into gasoline — say the process is too unproven and will eventually require far too much water and power (up to 10 coal-fired power plants in Colorado) in arid northwest Colorado. Proponents have even advocated using nuclear energy to power the oil shale industry.

Backers like Lamborn continually trot out U.S. Geologic Survey and Bureau of Land Management estimates that say the Green River Formation in southwest Wyoming, eastern Utah and northwest Colorado could contain 1.5 trillion barrels of oil (800 billion in Colorado), which is six times the reserves of Saudi Arabia.

Problem is, all that oil is trapped in sand and rock, and getting it out could be extremely expensive and environmentally destructive. Opponents say all those billions of dollars spent developing oil shale production technology over the next several decades should be spent on already proven renewable technologies, because fossil fuels are finite and burning them contributes to global warming.

Meanwhile, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. this week announced it was cranking up Wyoming’s first oil shale R & D project in nearly three decades, setting up shop on a 160-acre parcel of private land 35 miles south of Rock Springs.

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About the Author

David O. Williams

is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy, environmental and political issues for years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He's founder of Real Vail
and Real Aspen.

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