Oil Shale Litigation Settlement Could Lead to Greater Safeguards for Taxpayers and Wildlife

Hunters, ranchers, farmers and communities that depend on the land for their well-being will be hurt if status quo oil shale development is allowed to continue.

02-15-2011 // Mekell Mikell
Proghorn

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the Department of Interior (DOI) is re-examining its oil shale leasing policy on public lands as part of a legal settlement with a coalition of conservation groups, including the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).

Craig Thompson, chairman of NWF’s board of directors, believes this is a step in the right direction. “By revisiting the Department of Interior’s oil shale leasing policies”, says Thompson, “Secretary Salazar has an opportunity to provide greater safeguards for taxpayers and wildlife.” Craig Thompson is also a professor of engineering and earth science at Western Wyoming Community College and a former oil shale worker. He has firsthand knowledge on the risks to water and wildlife associated with trying to develop this material as a source of fuel.

Oil shale development harms public lands in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming by destroying essential habitats, altering the landscape and sucking up large amounts of water in dry states with scarce water resources. Hunters, ranchers, farmers and communities that depend on the land for their well-being will be hurt if status quo oil shale development is allowed to continue. The settlement does not close public lands to oil shale development, but allows the DOI to balance development with conservation, watershed protection, and recreation.

Despite claims that oil shale is the fuel of the future, it is a very immature fuel that is not economically, technologically, or commercially viable anywhere in the world. The process of developing this material requires more energy than it produces, making shale more expensive, inefficient, and polluting than conventional oil production. Professor Thompson believes “energy companies should not be allowed to experiment on our public lands, especially when the rewards are non-existent.” Turning this sedimentary rock into a reliable source of energy is still far beyond the foreseeable future. The path forward for oil shale states and the Department of Interior is to focus on protecting wildlife, water resources, and the Western way of life.

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