Oil shale-area congressmen critical of leasing review

The two congressmen whose districts encompass most of the nation’s oil shale lands said the Obama administration missed the mark in announcing it will reconsider leasing rules.

The congressmen, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, said reconsideration of the leasing rules could hinder the nation’s effort to increase its domestic energy supply.

“This is just another piece of the Interior Department and Obama administration’s ‘no-across-the-board’ energy policy,” said a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo.

Tipton’s 3rd Congressional District includes the world’s largest deposits of oil shale, a sedimentary rock that, when heated, releases a petroleum substance that can be refined into transportation and other fuels.

Across the state line, U.S. Rep. Scott Matheson, D-Utah, said he disagreed with the announcement by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Bureau of Land Management Director Robert Abbey to revisit the decisions made under the administration of George W. Bush.

Federal officials are looking over progress made in Utah, where a company with a research-and-development leases says it is producing petroleum with far less water than previous efforts.

“Because of advances made by Utah companies, the effect of oil shale development on water supplies may be greatly reduced,” Matheson said in a statement. “I am an advocate for a level playing field when it comes to access to leasing, so that these emerging technologies are able to compete.”

Without the ability to lease federal land, the backers of oil shale technologies can’t compete on an equal footing with other energy producers, Matheson’s office said, noting oil shale technologies should be subject to the same environmental requirements as other energy industries.

The Government Accounting Office late last year issued a report saying the West had enough water to begin an oil shale industry but soon would run into competition from downstream water users.

The GAO also said the Green River Formation of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming contained the equivalent of 3 trillion barrels of oil.

The rules that are to be reconsidered designated as many as 2 million surface acres for oil shale development.

Under the Bush administration in 2007, the BLM issued six research and development leases. Each was for 160 acres, but they could be expanded to 4,960 acres for 20 years of commercial production once a technology proved viable.

Shell Oil has three of those leases, all in Rio Blanco County, where it is testing its method of heating the rock deep below the surface and extracting petroleum as it would from a conventional well. Two other leases are being operated in Rio Blanco County by other companies. The sixth is in Matheson’s district.

The Bush administration offered a second round of similar leases before leaving office, but those leases were withdrawn by the Obama administration. The new administration then offered a round of research-and-development leases of 160 acres each. Those leases, however, could be expanded only to 640 acres and for a maximum of 10 years.


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