Salazar slows oil-shale express

It is hardly unexpected that Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar would want to apply the brakes to a Bush administration effort to fast-track the leasing of federal lands for the commercial development of oil shale.

While he was a U.S. senator from Colorado, Salazar was a leading opponent of that Bush effort, and with good reason. So many critical questions remain to be answered about oil-shale development that it seems to us — as with Salazar and many others — that it is premature to proceed with commercial leasing for oil shale.

Among the most critical questions that must be addressed before we can begin to accurately assess potential impacts of a commercial oil-shale industry are: How much water will be required? How much electricity will be needed? Where and how will it be generated? Which technologies will be the most efficient?

That last issue raises concerns about the action Salazar announced last week. He scuttled a Bush administration plan to offer a second round of research and development leases for oil shale on federal lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

A first round of R&D leases was approved several years ago on 160-acre parcels. The Bush administration in January gave the go-ahead for a second round of leases on 640-acre parcels.

Salazar said last week that the decision to proceed with a second round of R&D leases was “a midnight action and flawed.” He said he plans to offer a second round of research and development leases, but only after there are new opportunities for public input.

We’re all for additional comment from the public, but we hope Salazar doesn’t delay the new R&D leases too long.

The research and development leases are fundamentally different from the commercial leases that the Bush administration was also planning. First, they are much smaller in scale. Even at 640 acres, the research leases proposed by Bush would be significantly smaller than for commercial leasing.

More importantly, they would be, by their very nature, experimental. Having a number of companies engaged in research and development of different technologies on multiple R&D leases can help provide answers to those critical questions that must be confronted before commercial leasing for oil shale proceeds.

So, Mr. Secretary, come up with your own plan for a second round of research and development leases for oil shale — one that is less flawed than the Bush plan. But do it quickly. There is no good reason to delay more research on oil-shale technologies.


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