Oil shale bill rankles taxpayer advocacy group

Catherine Tsai
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – A taxpayer advocacy group is objecting to a Texas Republican’s proposal to subsidize research on developing oil from oil shale.

Rep. Ralph Hall has introduced a bill in Congress that proposes $10 million in annual subsidies for five years for research on oil shale, which Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., has called a promising energy resource.

Taxpayers for Common Sense co-founder Jill Lancelot said her group generally opposes any subsidies, but she said subsidies for oil shale are especially worrisome because companies are still trying to find a commercially viable and environmentally responsible way to extract oil from it. Unlike shale oil resources, oil shale must be heated to high temperatures before getting oil.

A handful of companies have leases on federal land in Colorado and Utah for oil shale research.

“Taxpayers are not getting a return on their investment,” Lancelot said.

Her group released a report Thursday criticizing federal subsidies and low royalty rates for energy developed on public land, just as the Bureau of Land Management is drafting new rules for oil shale development.

Industry officials have said other emerging energy sources, like biofuels, have received government help. Still, former Grand Junction Mayor Jim Spehar said he’s concerned about Hall’s proposal.

“Here we are about to drive off a fiscal cliff, and we have a congressman from Texas proposing $50 million in additional spending on an industry that has yet to prove itself,” said Spehar, who said the money would be better spent helping communities shore up roads and other infrastructure affected by energy development.

Meanwhile, Colorado’s senators are pushing for Congress to extend the wind production tax credit, whose value could far exceed what Hall proposes for oil shale. They say an extension would support existing wind industry jobs and help reduce pollution.