Ed Quillen: Do Colorado a favor and just go away, Newt | AspenTimes.com

Ed Quillen: Do Colorado a favor and just go away, Newt

So far I have not seen any of the “Drill here, drill now, pay less” bumper stickers promoted by Newt Gingrich, but doubtless it’s just a matter of time, since the slogan has become something of a mantra in certain right-thinking circles.

Gingrich was a Georgia Republican who served as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 1998. Lately he’s been co-writing some tolerable speculative fiction, and last fall, he set up an outfit called American Solutions for Winning the Future. It’s supposed to be bipartisan, and Gingrich notes that current political discourse is dominated by “sound bites and commercials so short they can’t communicate anything complex.”

Now let us ponder the complexity of oil shale, part of his “Drill here, drill now, pay less” proposal. Gingrich informs us that there is a lot of potential fuel buried in the Green River Formation of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, but “liberals on the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to block environmentally sound development of oil shale in Colorado” and “Congress recently voted to make it illegal to develop U.S. oil shale resources.”

But Congress did not ban the development of oil shale. If you have oil shale on private land, you’re free to develop it, subject of course to regulations concerning employee safety, air and water quality and the like.

What did Congress do? Much of the oil shale, about 80 percent, is on public land administered by the federal Bureau of Land Management. A 2005 law required the BLM to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) and leasing regulations before leasing any oil-shale land. Congress has voted not to fund that process. Without an EIS and without regulations, the land can’t be leased for development.

To be sure I understood this, I called Glenn Vawter, executive director of the National Oil Shale Association in Glenwood Springs.

He said that is the situation, and that oil-shale development is perfectly legal on private lands. He wants leasing of some public land so that new technology can be explored.

“The private shale lands,” he said “are generally where there are surface outcrops which would be mined the conventional way, by moving a lot of rock and heating it to release the kerogen [the waxy stuff that is the oil in oil shale]. The public lands have deeper, richer layers where the in-situ processes [which involve liquefying the hydrocarbons underground] could be developed.”

That’s a fair argument. But also it’s a more complex than the one Gingrich presented, which concluded with, “Yet, buried in a Department of Interior appropriations bill passed in December 2007 was an amendment that prevented establishing regulations for leasing land to drill for oil shale” and “the Senate Appropriations Committee rejected an amendment by Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) to allow oil shale drilling.”

The clear implication is that all you have to do is simply “drill” in oil-shale country and the oil will flow to the refineries and the gas pumps, when in reality there’s much more to it than mere drilling. The kerogen has to be extracted from the surrounding rock, liquefied and processed before it can be refined.

In other words, with “Drill here, drill now, pay less,” Gingrich has given us one of those “sound bites and commercials so short they can’t communicate anything complex.”

If only Gingrich would stick to writing fiction that is labeled as such.

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