Senate rejects Lamborn’s oil shale bill, drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Senate denied a bill on Tuesday that would have authorized up to 2 million acres of public land for oil shale exploration in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — not to mention open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other protected areas to drilling.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, sponsored the amendment, which failed 41-57. If approved, it would have also green-lighted construction of the controversial Keystone pipeline project.

A in-situ oil shale research project in Colorado. (USGS photo).
“After taking $429,800 from Big Oil, Sen. Roberts has wrapped every giveaway he can think of into one amendment — including a 2 million acre handout for oil shale speculation,” Checks and Balances Project Co-Director Matt Garrington said in Denver. “Sen. Roberts clearly isn’t serious about fixing our nation’s crumbling roads and bridges, or he wouldn’t be trying to solve our transportation and energy needs with an oil shale industry that does not exist.”

The senatorial smackdown comes after the House passed a similar bill in February, as part of Speaker Boehner’s much-maligned transportation package. U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, crafted the oil shale legislation, which runs counter to the Department of Interior’s plan to dramatically scale back available federal land for that type of energy exploration.

Oil shale is not the same as shale oil, which is oil trapped in rock formations. Oil shale doesn’t contain any oil at all and instead holds kerogen, or fossilized algae, that requires an extensive heating process for it to be extracted from the rock and refined into oil. Environmentalists strongly oppose oil shale as an energy source because of its dirty emissions and the vast amount of water it requires.

The Congressional Budget Office projected the oil shale bill would have no real positive effect on government revenue and over 10 years, it could leave the highway trust fund $78 billion in debt.

Days after the House passed the bill, Chevron announced it was divesting its oil shale research in Colorado to pursue more profitable projects. For now, U.S. oil shale is not commercially viable.

The Senate’s denial was the first time in four years it has voted on Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling. As for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, President Obama has denied it for the time being but Republicans have been trying to push it through every chance they get. The pipeline would transport oil from Canada’s oil sands through the United States to refineries along the Gulf Coast.

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