BLM Issues New Rules for Oil Shale Development: Last Minute Bush Administration Environmental Trashing?

oil shale mountains photo

photo: Doc Searles

Though Congress let the offshore drilling and oil shale development ban lapse back in the end of September, few expected that new rules to develop US oil shale would be proposed before the end of the year. Well, the Bureau of Land Management apparently couldn't wait.

In a move which the BLM says "could result in the addition [to US supplies] of up to 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil from lands in the Western United States" and which will "increase and diversify America's energy supply", new rules for Oil Shale management were released yesterday: Several Times the Oil Reserves of Saudi Arabia
In touting the benefits of oil shale development, Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management C. Stephen Allred said,

The U.S. needs all types of energy resources, both conventional and renewable, in order to meet our future needs. Production from domestic resources makes us more secure and less vulnerable to future energy crises, and increases our security and economic well-being. The tremendous oil shale resources that we have in the U.S., containing several times the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia, can be a vital component of that secure future.

Site specific environmental analyses would still have to be conducted in order that all state and local regulations were complied with, but apparently the BLM hasn't read (or probably more accurately, the Bush adminstration and the BLM are discounting) any of the number of analyses which detail just how much of a losing proposition, both economically and environmentally, that exploiting oil shale and tar sands is.

Oil Shale Exploitation an Environmental Nightmare
In case you missed it: Because it takes significantly more energy to extract oil from these shale deposits than it does to extract conventional oil, the carbon emissions are up to eight times greater than conventional sources of oil. Then there is the issue of water usage: Producing one barrel of oil from oil shale requires between two and five barrels of water, and in areas which are already experiencing drought conditions. So even if there is a significant amount of oil there the environmental costs of extracting it are, as WWF-UK put it, "unthinkable".

The only good news in this is that it would be up to the incoming Obama administration whether the actually put these lands up for lease. And since at numerous times on the campaign trail Obama indicated opposition to developing this source of 'unconventional fuels' this may amount to nothing.

That said, this last minute measure by the Bush administration reminds me of a rock star trashing a hotel room. Why do they do it? Poor behavior, and because they can.

More at: BLM (press release)

Oil Shale, Tar Sands
Economic, Environmental Costs of Developing Tar Sands & Oil Shale "Unthinkable": WWF-UK
Canadian Tar Sands Look Like Tolkein's Morder Says UN Water Advisor
Tar Sands Investments Could be Oil Industry's Version of the Sub-Prime Meltdown

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