RAND Corp. representative cites ‘adverse ecological impacts’ of oil shale

A representative of an organization whose research on oil shale production has been cited for years testified before Congress Friday that “decisions made by the federal government may have a profound impact on the residents in the northwestern quarter of Colorado …”

James T. Bartis of the RAND Corporation testified on Friday (pdf) before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power. He was asked to speak to the alternative fuel provisions in HR 909, the “Roadmap for America’s Energy Future” bill sponsored by Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

“Most of the high value resources lie within in a very small area (roughly 30 by 35 miles) within Colorado’s Piceance Basin and within a small portion of the nearby Uinta Basin within Utah,” Bartis said. “Large-scale development of oil shale will cause federal lands to be diverted from their current uses.

“In the absence environmental and economic mitigation measures unprecedented in scope and scale, such development would almost certainly have adverse ecological impacts, and would likely be accompanied by socioeconomic impacts that could be particularly severe, especially in the northwest quarter of Colorado.”

The RAND Corporation was hired by the U.S. Department of Energy to do a report on oil shale several years ago indicating it would require 10 new coal-fired power plants to produce one million barrels a day of oil on Colorado’s Western Slope. The report (pdf) also indicated at least five barrels of water would be required for every barrel of oil – and that’s if the technology to heat the organic kerogen in shale rock and sand is ever commercially perfected.

The report has been criticized by some who say it is outdated based on more recent research and development. Backers of oil shale production generally support Bush administration rulemaking that set royalty rates on federal lands and greatly expanded the areas available for leasing.

Critics say the so-called Bush “midnight rulemaking” in 2008 was premature because the technology is so unproven and full-scale commercial oil shale production will consume too much conventional power and scarce Colorado water.

Conservation groups have been saying for years that the resources pumped into oil shale production by Exxon, Shell and other corporations would be better spent on the development of renewable sources of energy. RAND’s Bartis cited a passage from HR 909, then refuted it:

“Section 141(a)(5) makes the claim that ‘Oil shale is one of the best resources available for advancing American technology and creating American jobs,’” Bartis testified. “I have no knowledge of any research that supports this claim. Oil shale has a potentially important role in advancing our energy security and furthering economic progress. I see no reason to promote oil shale as above other promising areas for advancing technology and creating jobs.”

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