Rein in oil shale

No rush to set development rules
This is an archived article that was published on in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

We have just one word for President Bush's Interior Department, in language the Texan should understand: Whoa!

The mad rush at Interior to get rules in place for the development of oil shale in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado is unnecessary and potentially dangerous for the open places and water reserves in those states. The department should rein in its plan to put regulations on the fast track, even to the point of forgoing a public protest period, in order to encourage and facilitate tapping this questionable energy source.

Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., wants a thorough assessment of how such development would affect the three states before the department goes ahead with the regulatory process that leads to the federal government issuing permits.

Salazar makes a good argument, one with which we agree.

There has been no adequate analysis of how mining for the oil in shale rock would use up scarce Western water, disrupt wildlife habitat, destroy the land and pollute the air. Researchers are conducting experiments in oil shale production techniques that could lessen the effects of traditional processes, but that technology is not ready for prime time and developers say it is likely 10 or more years away.

Until the new technology becomes ripe, if it is ever ready, the federal government should hold back on rules for what amounts to large-scale strip mining for oil.

Even if it is true that Utah and its sister states contain what oil-shale advocates refer to as resources twice as large as Saudi Arabia's, there must be an economical and environmentally friendly way to tap the rock-encased oil before launching production.

The Bureau of Land Management has a plan to open up 2 million acres in the three states and wants to have the rules established for development before the end of the year.

Why the rush? We believe it has less to do with energy development than with the transfer of power from Republicans to Democrats that will take place in January. The Bush administration is determined to further its policy of "drill, baby, drill" and "mine, baby, mine" as far as possible in the time remaining.

That is a poor way to make public policy and will only hobble the new president and Congress until they can revise the rules once again. That's a waste of time when the country is facing an unprecedented economic crisis and, incidentally, a global climate crisis that demands we reduce, not increase, our dependence on fossil fuels.