For Immediate Release, September 5, 2008
Center for Biological Diversity Statement On the Bureau of Land
Management's Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for
Oil Shale and Tar Sands Commercial Leasing Program
Bush Administration Forces Through Final EIS;
Will Do Nothing to Lower Gas Prices
TUCSON, Ariz.— Today the Bush Administration took another step toward finalizing a commercial leasing program for oil shale on some of the nation’s most pristine public lands and released a final programmatic environmental impact statement for commercial oil shale production on more than 2 million acres of public lands in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.
In another parting gift to Big Oil, the Bush Administration released a four-volume environmental impact statement that omits information about the potential technologies that would be employed and the environmental consequences of this highly energy- and water- intensive fossil fuel to global warming and to endangered species and Western communities that depend on scarce Western water.
“The final EIS reveals that concerns about the unsustainability of this fuel source are shared not just by environmentalists who have been following this issue for years, but by other federal agencies, local governments, and thousands of citizens,” said Amy Atwood, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Oil shale development is another dirty fossil fuel and extracting it would deal a disastrous blow to any hope of reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide pollutant levels to below 350 parts per million. Oil shale extraction 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.”
Federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Park Service, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, all have raised concerns about the environmental impacts of opening up 2 million acres of public lands to oil shale development. They include questions about the harm it would inflict on global climate, endangered and threatened species, wilderness areas, air and water quality, water rights, and the lack of information about what technologies would be used.
Oil shale is one of the world’s most greenhouse gas-intensive energy sources. Producing oil from shale requires several times more energy than conventional oil production. Depending on the technology, it also could consume vast quantities of water in an arid region where water is becoming even more scarce due to climate change.
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 gas-intensive energy sources, including oil shale, tar sands, and coal-fired power plants, is fundamentally incompatible with achieving this goal. If greenhouse gas 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.
“It is time for the Bush Administration to wake up and realize that oil shale development is nothing more than a pipe dream that has no part in any rational energy plan for the future,” Atwood said. “Congress should take action and permanently halt the Bush administration’s latest attempt to promote this destructive and impractical fossil fuel development.”
Oil Shale Facts
* It’s dirtier than the dirtiest coal
* It requires more land to produce than conventional oil
* It’s more water-intensive than farming in the desert
* There’s been 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 methods, 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 greater 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 then pumped to the surface. To prevent the newly freed oil and other toxic substances from percolating deeper underground, the entire operation is surrounded by another set of holes pumped with supercooled fluids in an attempt to create an underground barrier of ice during the operation. Oil-shale lands would be a maze of pipes and pumps, and these complex systems could not produce significant amounts of oil before 2037, at the earliest.
Shale Oil Is Worse Than Crude Oil in Contributing to Climate Change
Producing shale from oil would be dirtier than the dirtiest coal, 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 to develop 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 10 years. Meanwhile, the West is facing water shortages as a result of climate change and population growth.
The Center for Biological Diversity, a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 180,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.