Sen. Allard backs oil shale leasing

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen CO, Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) has joined several other Republican lawmakers to introduce energy legislation that would increase domestic energy production by removing barriers to oil shale leasing in the western United States and drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The American Energy Production Act, announced Thursday, includes language that would repeal a one-year moratorium that prevents the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from approving final regulations for commercial leasing of oil shale. The language for that prohibition came in a $555 billion spending bill Congress passed last year. Allard voted against the bill, while Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) voted for it.

Salazar has been opposed to the BLM issuing commercial oil-shale leases because he says the technology to develop it still is not ready and the environmental impacts are not yet known.

However, Allard said the “needed development of oil shale in Colorado” is an important piece in addressing the energy supply shortages in the United States, according to a statement from his office.

The BLM has said the potential oil shale resources within the Green River Formation in the western United States are more than 50 times the United States’ current proven conventional oil reserves and about five times the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia.

“U.S. oil shale resources alone exceed 2 trillion barrels of potential supply,” Allard said in a prepared statement. “There are companies that are ready to start producing oil shale this year. We in Congress should not be preventing this kind of progress. It is time to put every idea on the table, and that includes the exciting possibilities represented by oil shale.”

Stephanie Valencia, a spokeswoman for Salazar, said the county’s national policy with respect to oil shale “should be one that is judicious and responsible and that takes into account the communities that are affected.”

“Colorado’s Western Slope knows far too well the unfortunate bust that comes from an unchecked boom on rushing into commercial oil shale leasing,” Valencia said. “The provisions outlined today on oil shale continue that rush-to-drill mentality.”

The BLM last year released a 1,400-page draft programmatic environmental-impact statement that sketched out possible oil shale leasing alternatives in Colorado. It is the preferred alternative of the agency to lease most of the lands ” which could mean that 359,798 acres in Colorado could be open for possible oil-shale leasing.

Three companies that have five BLM experimental research and development oil shale leases in the Piceance Basin all said Wednesday that they are several years away from possible commercial development of oil shale. Both Shell and Chevron don’t expect to make a decision about possible commercial production of oil shale until sometime in the next decade.

Frank Smith, oil shale policy activist and Grand Valley Citizens Alliance organizer for the Western Colorado Congress, said many senators and companies are overestimating the amount of producible oil that is locked up in oil shale reserves in Colorado and the western United States.

The proposed bill also would repeal a $4,000 fee for new applications for permits to drill and would also eliminate a provision in last year’s spending bill that reduced mineral-leasing revenue payments to the states by 2 percent, according to the Allard statement.

The legislation introduced Thursday also would allow for petitions for leasing activities in the Atlantic and Pacific regions of the Outer Continental Shelf in order to tap the 14 billion barrels of known, recoverable oil in the area, according to the Allard statement. The bill also calls for leasing in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, which would provide access to 10 billion barrels of recoverable oil, and suspending the filling of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for 180 days.


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