End the addiction: Oil shale plan no answer to oil dependency

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sen. Bob Bennett calls alternative energy - solar, geothermal, wind, biofuels - the "promised land," and yet he, Sen. Orrin Hatch and other Republicans refuse to do enough to help Americans get there.

Instead, these old-school diehards want to continue our fossil-fuel dependency by throwing our innovative energy and taxpayer resources toward getting oil from shale rock rather than on clean alternative-energy vehicles that can take us where we need to go.

So it is no surprise Hatch and Bennett were ecstatic about the Bush administration's Bureau of Land Management plan to go ahead with rules for development of oil shale and tar sands on nearly 2 million acres in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, despite a congressional moratorium directing BLM not to finalize such regulations. And they want the moratorium lifted.

But their enthusiasm is misguided. It shows their backward thinking, their determination to cling to the status quo: Big Oil funneling millions to the campaigns of members of Congress, who in turn give the industry healthy government subsidies while paying lip service to alternative energy development.

America in the 21st century must wean itself off carbon-based energy. Continued reliance on oil, whether from strip mining of rocks or drilling, will only speed us more quickly toward catastrophic climate change and global political instability. It cannot reduce fuel prices for American motorists in the short term or help solve the problems of oil dependency in the long term.

This unreasonable hunger for shale oil far outpaces our ability to produce it. Oil cannot be cooked from shale on a commercially viable scale. There is no proven technology that would not also produce many tons of carbon dioxide, the major cause of climate change, use too much of the West's water and not damage the environment. Many thousands of acres already have been leased for oil shale production that cannot be mined without new technology.

The BLM itself estimates that oil from shale will require at least one new 1,500- to 2,400-megawatt power plant and about three barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced. The two-year-old moratorium was sponsored by Colorado Congress members to prevent a headlong rush to oil shale and tar sands development.