Senators want to speed up shale development

More Republican lawmakers from the West’s oil shale country are pushing legislation to fast-track the resource’s development, in contrast to the Obama administration’s efforts to take things slower.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming introduced his American Energy and Western Jobs Act Thursday, with fellow Republican senators Mike Enzi, also of Wyoming, and Mike Lee of Utah as co-sponsors. The bill seeks to remove barriers to onshore oil and gas production, including by offering more leases for oil shale projects.

The bill would require that within 180 days of its passage, the Department of Interior offer another 10 parcels for oil shale leasing for research, demonstration and development. It also would finalize commercial leasing rules that were issued in 2008 and cover matters including royalty rates.

The richest oil shale reserves in the world are centered in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, and particularly in Colorado’s Rio Blanco County. Three companies hold five research and development leases in the county, and another lease was issued in Utah. The Bureau of Land Management is considering offering three more research and development leases, including one in Utah and two in Rio Blanco County. ExxonMobil and Natural Soda Holdings Inc. are pursuing the Colorado leases.

Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in February declared that the government would take a fresh look at Bush administration decisions establishing commercial oil shale rules and designating some 2 million acres for possible development in the three states.

In late March, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, joined U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., in offering a far-reaching energy bill that includes a provision to require Salazar to begin commercial oil shale leasing where interest is shown.

Beyond oil shale, Barrasso’s bill would require Salazar to set goals to maintain or increase onshore oil and gas production, and repeal Salazar’s 2010 onshore leasing reforms as well as his order this year to evaluate BLM acreage for its potential protection as “wild lands.”

“This legislation will bring down the cost of gas and give American energy producers the certainty they need,” Barrasso said in announcing his bill.

Matt Garrington, deputy director of the Checks & Balances Project, a government and energy industry watchdog group, said in a statement Thursday: “Senator Barrasso intends to let the oil and gas industry get whatever they want, whenever they want. Ending common sense protections for our air and water would make American families pay the price.”


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