‘Is the juice worth the squeeze for development of oil shale?

By Ken Brenner

In the wake of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf, many Americans are looking for cleaner sources of energy that carry less potential for pollution. However, living in the West still means sharing our land, air and water with fossil-fuel development.

We need a guarantee that when commercial energy production does take place in the future, our agricultural way of life, wildlife and water supplies will not be compromised.

Last month, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced the names of the companies that will receive additional public land to research new technologies for oil shale.  Oil shale, for those unfamiliar, is a potential fuel source — and has been for over 100 years.

Despite considerable investments and access to our public lands, energy companies have yet to develop a commercially successful process to extract the oil from rock. The new leases now provide a total of seven tracts of public lands that are available to develop oil shale.

No additional leasing should occur until industry proves it has a safe and effective production method.

Some locals familiar with oil shale’s history refer to it, as “The energy source of the future, and it always will be.”

Many experts have expressed concern about the impacts of large-scale oil shale production to our water, air, agriculture and public health. We want those impacts to be fully addressed, including those to neighboring communities. There should also be a successful research project first, to measure the effects, before we lease our public lands for commercial development.  That is just common sense.

The Bureau of Land Management has estimated that commercial oil shale production could consume large amounts of water, cause significant air and water pollution and forever change agricultural lands and critical wildlife habitat. In northwest Colorado, we must consider whether that is a risk worth taking.

Are we going to become the national sacrifice zone for energy production?

There are already strains on our water supply. The Colorado River is the water supply for millions of residents in Colorado and six other Western states. Any threat to that water source is enough reason for concern.

There must be a balanced approach to development of our oil, oil shale and natural gas resources in the United States and in Colorado.

A practical approach would be to produce the energy we need as a nation and, at the same time, maintain our agricultural heritage, protect public health, keep our air clean and safeguard our drinking water.

Many believe that we would be better off with proven energy sources that can produce energy with less risk of impacts to our water supply.

Earlier in October, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar also announced leases for solar and wind projects on our public lands. I appreciate his efforts in that area and look forward to the jobs that will come with those industries.

We owe it to future generations to produce energy sensibly. We need to ask ourselves, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”

Ken Brenner is the Steamboat Springs City Council president, a former Routt County planning commissioner and a member of a third-generation ranch family on the Yampa River.


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