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For Immediate Release, July 22, 2008


Amy Atwood, Center for Biological Diversity, (541) 914-8372,

Statement of the Center for Biological Diversity
On the Bureau of Land Management's Draft Oil Shale Leasing Regulations

BLM Moves Ahead With Efforts to Squeeze Oil From Rock;
Will Do Nothing to Lower Gas Prices

TUCSON, Ariz.— Today the Bush Administration moved toward developing a commercial leasing program for oil shale on some of the nation’s most pristine public lands and released draft regulations for commercial oil shale production on more than 2 million acres of public lands in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. In systematically pandering to the will of oil companies, the regulations ignore the reality of global warming and fail to protect the public lands on which they’re proposed.

“Even if the oil companies could squeeze oil from a stone, it wouldn’t do anything to address our nation’s energy and climate crisis,” said Amy Atwood of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Oil shale development of any sort is dirtier than the dirtiest coal and fundamentally incompatible with reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide pollutant levels to below 350 parts per million (ppm). Oil shale is also an inappropriate use of our public lands, which must serve as refugia for species struggling to survive in the face of global warming.”

Oil shale is one of the world’s most greenhouse-gas-intensive energy sources and requires several times the energy outputs of conventional oil production. Depending on the technology, it could also consume vast quantities of water in an arid region where water is becoming scarce due to climate change.

“In announcing the draft regulations today, Secretary Kempthorne referred to high food prices, but the proposed oil-shale leasing regulations themselves say that it is likely that additional agricultural water rights would have to be acquired for leasing at the commercial scale,” added Atwood. “Congress should be moving toward commonsense energy policies like better fuel-efficiency standards and tax incentives for clean energy development, so that industry will take the cue to start using its brain power and investment capital to research and develop cleaner, alternative fuels.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is dedicated to ensuring that atmospheric carbon dioxide pollutant levels are reduced to below 350 ppm, which leading climate scientists warn is necessary to prevent devastating climate change. Further development of greenhouse-intensive energy sources, including oil shale, tar sands, and coal-fired power plants, is fundamentally incompatible with achieving this goal. If greenhouse emissions are not immediately reduced, the current atmospheric carbon dioxide level of 385 ppm will rise to approximately 500 ppm by mid-century, triggering mass wildlife extinctions, catastrophic global weather and ecosystem changes, and tragic human suffering.

“Oil shale development plays no part in any rational energy plan for the future,” said Atwood. “Congress should permanently halt the Bush administration’s ill-advised attempt to promote this destructive and impractical fossil fuel development.”

The Bush administration is seeking public comment on the rules. Comments must be submitted within 60 days of publication of the proposed rules in the Federal Register.

Oil Shale Facts

* Dirtier than the dirtiest coal.
* More land-intensive than conventional oil.
* More water-intensive than farming in the desert.
* No significant production of U.S. shale oil for at least 30 years.

Shale Mining is Among the Filthiest Ways to Produce Energy

There are two kinds of shale-oil extraction method, neither yet proven to work. The first involves underground, open-pit, or strip mining, as with coal. Unlike coal, though, oil-shale production requires additional steps of pulverizing the shale and then roasting it in giant kilns to drive off the oil. The process requires disposal of all of the original rock, which is 30 percent larger in volume due to pulverizing. About a ton of rock needs to be crushed, heated, and dumped to produce just 15 gallons of oil.

The second method involves drilling tightly spaced wells across thousands of acres and injecting heat into the ground for about four years. Oil driven from the rock is pumped to the surface. To prevent the newly freed oil and other toxic substances from drifting away underground, the entire operation is surrounded by another set of holes pumped with supercooled fluids in an attempt to create an underground wall of ice during the operation. Oil-shale lands would be a maze of pipes and pumps. This complex system cannot produce significant oil volumes before 2037 at the earliest.

Shale Oil Is Worse Than Crude Oil in Contributing to Climate Change

Producing oil from shale would be dirtier than the dirtiest coal. That is because it takes so much energy just to squeeze a barrel of oil out of stone. Compared to crude oil, every barrel of shale oil sends 50 percent more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a time when we must be emitting far less carbon dioxide, not more. Fuel efficiency, public transit, better urban planning and a new generation of vehicles are better investments to reduce foreign imports over the next 30 years.

The Green River Basin Is an Outdoor American Treasure

Backed by the Bush administration, oil companies want access to millions of acres of public lands for shale mining in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. These are lands that are currently open to the public for top-quality outdoor recreation. They include wonderful trout fishing, America’s healthiest elk herds, rare plants found nowhere else in the world, and many endangered and threatened species. These are also areas that support rural lifestyles passed down for generations. This is no place for locating strip mines, oil refineries, power plants, and all of the highways, pipelines, power lines and dumpsites to support them.

There Is Not Enough Colorado River Water for Meaningful Production

The Colorado River supplies drinking water to about 30 million people and irrigates about 3.5 million acres of farmland. Many years, the river is so taxed it does not have a drop left by the time it reaches the sea. Reservoir levels are falling to record low levels. Climate change predictions call for less rain and more evaporation. All 15 million acre-feet of the Colorado River’s annual flow have been fought over and carefully allocated.

All significant shale oil sits in the Colorado River Basin. According to Department of Energy figures, replacing current OPEC oil imports with shale oil would cost us up to 1.4 million acre-feet of Colorado River basin water every year. That is enough to drain Lake Mead dry in less than ten years. Meanwhile, the West if facing water shortages as a result of climate change.


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