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In our opinion: Open the federal land in the West to shale oil development

Published: Thursday, Nov. 15 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

During his campaign, the president promised an "all of the above" approach to domestic energy production. Now that the campaign is over, however, it seems that shale oil production may not be high on the president's list. Indeed, almost immediately after winning the election, the Obama administration declared 1.6 million acres of federal land in the West off limits to shale oil development.

This inexplicable decision comes at a time when technology has made shale oil extraction far more economically viable and environmentally friendly than it has been in the past. According to the International Energy Agency, shale oil resources will allow the United States to surpass Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil exporter before the decade is out. Much of that oil is right here in Utah, and the economic impact of developing those resources is incalculably positive, both in terms of jobs created and energy provided. We simply can't afford to ignore that.

The country should have seen this coming when the president decided to pass on building the Keystone Pipeline from Canada, which would have created tens of thousands of new jobs during the weakest economic recovery in living memory. Then, as now, the president has cited environmental concerns to leave these resources untapped. But canceling Keystone doesn't mean the oil won't be produced; it just means Canada will sell the oil overseas, which negates any illusory environmental benefits of scrapping the pipeline.

As for oil shale, modern reclamation efforts ensure that oil production doesn't have the physical and carbon footprints that they would have had just five years ago. And that's not to mention that the oil shale in question is in desolate areas where extraction would have minimal impact on any indigenous plants or wildlife. Abandoning this astounding opportunity to move forward toward energy independence makes no sense at all.

It seems clear, then, that when President Obama says "all of the above," he's really talking about alternatives to fossil fuels. In theory, that's commendable. In practical terms, it's premature. Realistically speaking, none of the alternatives to fossil fuels yet have the capacity to meet our growing energy demands, and oil production remains a vital component of our national energy supply.

Shale oil, then, can provide a bridge to the gap between our current energy needs and future energy possibilities. Until the time comes when so-called "green" energy can do the job, there is simply no rational reason to leave all that economic potential buried in the ground.

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