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For Immediate Release, February 25, 2009

Contact: Melissa Thrailkill, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 313

Statement of Center for Biological Diversity on Interior Department
Plans to Rescind and Reissue Public Lands Oil Shale Leases

SAN FRANCISCO— Secretary of the Interior Salazar today announced the Department of the Interior’s plans to offer a second round of research, development, and demonstration leases for oil shale on public lands in Colorado and Utah and withdraw the previous administration’s proposal for expanded leases. The Department will hold a 90-day comment period on its new lease plans beginning on February 27th.

Producing a liquid fuel from oil shale entails heating solid rock to temperatures in excess of 600 degrees Fahrenheit to liquefy the kerogen inside for conversion into synthetic petroleum fuels. Because of the large amounts of energy needed to heat and process oil shale, as many as 10 new coal power plants might be needed in the West, leading to increased emissions of greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change.

“Interior’s action today should have ended with the positive step of rescinding the illegal Bush administration regulations,” said Melissa Thrailkill, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Oil shale is not part of a clean energy future and reissuing more RD&D leases amounts to a waste of public land and money that will not help us transition away from fossil fuels.”

The Center is a party in two lawsuits pending in the U.S. District Court for District Court of Colorado alleging that the Bush administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act in drafting regulations for a commercial oil-shale program without, by its own admission, having sufficient information on the environmental impacts. The suits also charge that the agency broke the law by amending 10 management plans in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming to allow oil shale and tar sands development on more than two million acres of land without giving the public a chance to administratively appeal, or “protest,” the decision. Furthermore, the Bush administration failed to ensure that taxpayers receive a fair return from oil shale lease royalties, in violation of the Federal Lands Policy Management Act and the Energy Policy Act of 2005.  

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 fewer than 10 years. Meanwhile, the West if facing water shortages as a result of climate change.

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