Oil-shale bill puts supporters, Salazar at odds

A measure that would lift the federal ban on oil shale leasing passed the U.S. House on Tuesday, putting two supporters at least temporarily at odds with the moratorium’s prime backer, Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.

The oil shale provision was inserted into H.R. 6899, the Comprehensive American Energy Security and Consumer Protection Act, by a Utah congressman, Democrat Jim Matheson.

Utah is one of three states with significant deposits of oil shale and Matheson’s provision would lift the ban and allow state legislatures to opt in for oil shale development.

The moratorium, which was enacted at the behest of Sen. Salazar, is set to expire at the end of this month unless Congress extends it.

Matheson’s provision “puts Colorado at risk” for an environmental disaster, said Keith Hay, energy advocate for Environment Colorado.

Two Colorado supporters of the ban, Democrat Reps. John Salazar and Mark Udall, said in a joint press release that the measure has a “safety valve” that would allow states to control the pace of oil shale development within their borders “regardless of the (Bush administration’s) desire to rush ahead with oil shale development at all costs.”

Salazar’s 3rd Congressional District includes most of the West Slope, which contains all the state’s oil shale reserves. Udall, whose 2nd District includes the rest of the West Slope, is running for the state’s open Senate seat, which is being vacated by Republican Wayne Allard.

Sen. Salazar has repeatedly defended the moratorium as necessary because it prevents not merely leasing, but the drafting of regulations governing commercial production from oil shale.

It’s not possible to draft regulations without knowing the amount of water and power required to produce petroleum from shale, Sen. Salazar contends.

Critics of the moratorium, including Allard, say industry needs to know its costs, including the royalties it would have to pay to produce from shale on public lands, before it can move forward.

“A moratorium on rule making is foolish and short-sighted,” Allard spokesman Steve Wymer said Tuesday.
Republicans at their convention this month called for “accelerated exploration” in the United States, including the oil shale of the Green River Basin in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

By some estimates, the shale deposits in the Western states contain the equivalent of 1.8 trillion barrels of oil.

A leasing plan released last week by the Bureau of Land Management estimated that it could produce the equivalent of 800 billion barrels.


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