The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Melissa Thrailkill,  (415) 436-9682 x 313

Statement on Department of Interior Plans to Rescind and Reissue Public Lands Oil Shale Leases


Secretary of the Interior Salazar
today announced the Department of the Interior's plans to offer a
second round of research, development, and demonstration leases for
oil shale on public lands in Colorado and Utah and withdraw the
previous administration's proposal for expanded leases. The
Department will hold a 90-day comment period on its new lease plans
beginning on February 27th.

Producing a liquid fuel from oil shale entails
heating solid rock to temperatures in excess of 600 degrees
Fahrenheit to liquefy the kerogen inside for conversion into
synthetic petroleum fuels. Because of the large amounts of energy
needed to heat and process oil shale, as many as 10 new coal power
plants might be needed in the West, leading to increased emissions
of greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change.

"Interior's action today should have ended with the
positive step of rescinding the illegal Bush administration
regulations," said Melissa Thrailkill, staff attorney at the Center
for Biological Diversity. "Oil shale is not part of a clean energy
future and reissuing more RD&D leases amounts to a waste of
public land and money that will not help us transition away from
fossil fuels."

The Center is a party in two lawsuits pending in the
U.S. District Court for District Court of Colorado alleging that the
Bush administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act
in drafting regulations for a commercial oil-shale program without,
by its own admission, having sufficient information on the
environmental impacts. The suits also charge that the agency broke
the law by amending 10 management plans in Colorado, Utah, and
Wyoming to allow oil shale and tar sands development on more than
two million acres of land without giving the public a chance to
administratively appeal, or "protest," the decision. Furthermore,
the Bush administration failed to ensure that taxpayers receive a
fair return from oil shale lease royalties, in violation of the
Federal Lands Policy Management Act and the Energy Policy Act of

Oil Shale Facts

* Dirtier than the dirtiest coal. * More
land-intensive than conventional oil. * More water-intensive
than farming in the desert. * No significant production of U.S.
shale oil for at least 30 years.

Shale Mining is Among the Filthiest Ways to Produce

There are two kinds of shale-oil extraction method,
neither yet proven to work. The first involves underground,
open-pit, or strip mining, as with coal. Unlike coal, though,
oil-shale production requires additional steps of pulverizing the
shale and then roasting it in giant kilns to drive off the oil. The
process requires disposal of all of the original rock, which is 30
percent larger in volume due to pulverizing. About a ton of rock
needs to be crushed, heated, and dumped to produce just 15 gallons
of oil.

The second method involves drilling tightly spaced
wells across thousands of acres and injecting heat into the ground
for about four years. Oil driven from the rock is pumped to the
surface. To prevent the newly freed oil and other toxic substances
from drifting away underground, the entire operation is surrounded
by another set of holes pumped with supercooled fluids in an attempt
to create an underground wall of ice during the operation. Oil-shale
lands would be a maze of pipes and pumps. This complex system cannot
produce significant oil volumes before 2037 at the earliest.

Shale Oil Is Worse Than Crude Oil in Contributing to
Climate Change

Producing oil from shale would be dirtier than the
dirtiest coal. That is because it takes so much energy just to
squeeze a barrel of oil out of stone. Compared to crude oil, every
barrel of shale oil sends 50 percent more carbon dioxide into the
atmosphere at a time when we must be emitting far less carbon
dioxide, not more. Fuel efficiency, public transit, better urban
planning and a new generation of vehicles are better investments to
reduce foreign imports over the next 30 years.

The Green River Basin Is an Outdoor American

Backed by the Bush administration, oil companies
want access to millions of acres of public lands for shale mining in
Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. These are lands that are currently open
to the public for top-quality outdoor recreation. They include
wonderful trout fishing, America's healthiest elk herds, rare plants
found nowhere else in the world, and many endangered and threatened
species. These are also areas that support rural lifestyles passed
down for generations. This is no place for locating strip mines, oil
refineries, power plants, and all of the highways, pipelines, power
lines, and dumpsites to support them.

There Is Not Enough Colorado River Water for
Meaningful Production

The Colorado River supplies drinking water to about
30 million people and irrigates about 3.5 million acres of farmland.
Many years, the river is so taxed it does not have a drop left by
the time it reaches the sea. Reservoir levels are falling to record
low levels. Climate change predictions call for less rain and more
evaporation. All 15 million acre-feet of the Colorado River's annual
flow have been fought over and carefully allocated.

All significant shale oil sits in the Colorado River
Basin. According to Department of Energy figures, replacing current
OPEC oil imports with shale oil would cost us up to 1.4 million
acre-feet of Colorado River basin water every year. That is enough
to drain Lake Mead dry in fewer than 10 years. Meanwhile, the West
if facing water shortages as a result of climate change.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

(520) 623-5252