Mark Udall reiterates go-slow approach to shale

Newly seated U.S. Sen. Mark Udall on Thursday gave his colleagues an early indication of his position on oil shale development, reiterating the go-slow approach he advocated while a member of the House of Representatives.

“Let’s proceed, but let’s proceed cautiously,” the Democrat told members of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee.

The committee held a hearing on energy security two days after the new Senate convened.

Udall, elected to the Senate in November, has been appointed to the committee and is awaiting confirmation.

Udall said the one-time moratorium on the development of oil shale leasing rules for public land “did make some sense” because companies still are experimenting on possible means of production.

“Until we know the technologies that will be utilized, how can you write regulations for that very production?” Udall asked.

The Bureau of Land Management issued leasing rules last year, after the Bush administration blocked attempts to extend the moratorium. Udall and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar and U.S. Rep.
John Salazar, fellow Colorado Democrats, vowed last year in a joint statement to fight this year “to restore an orderly process for oil shale development so that Colorado’s land, water and communities are protected.”

Ken Salazar since has been nominated by President-elect Barack Obama to serve as Secretary of the Interior Department, which oversees the BLM.

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter also says the federal government is moving too fast on oil shale leasing. Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah has supported the issuing of leasing rules.

Dianne Nielson, energy adviser to Huntsman, told the Senate committee Thursday the rules provide certainty to the industry in moving forward with possible development, “but at the same time make sure that that’s a path that is protective of the environment.”

Karen Harbert, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, said the rules are important to developing an “incredibly important resource.”

“If we have the laudable goal of reducing our dependence on imported oil, we certainly should be using those resources here at home,” she said.

But Kit Batten, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress think tank, said development of oil shale would pollute air and water and result in heavy demands on energy and water supplies, making it a nonviable resource.


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