WASHINGTON Utah lawmakers were happy to hear President Bush include oil shale development and mention Utah in his speech Wednesday on what Congress can do to increase domestic oil supply and help reduce gas prices.
Bush pointed out that the administration has worked on alternative energy sources and gas savings technologies, such as a hydrogen fuel cell, but in the short term, the country needs more domestic production.
He blamed the short supply of oil compared to the growing demand on Democrats, emphasizing that they have rejected every proposal he has sent to increase production in the United States.
"Congress must face a hard reality: Unless members are willing to accept gas prices at today's painful levels or even higher our nation must produce more oil," Bush said in a speech delivered in the White House Rose Garden. "And we must start now."
Bush said the equivalent of about 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil sits in the oil shale of the Green River Basin that crosses Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
"That's more than three times larger than the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia," Bush said. "And if it can be fully recovered, it would be equal to more than a century's worth of currently projected oil imports."
Bush said that more companies have invested in technology to make oil shale production more affordable and efficient.
"While the cost of extracting oil from shale is still more than the cost of traditional production, it is also less than the current market price of oil," Bush said. "This makes oil shale a highly promising resource."
Bush urged Congress to remove a current ban on oil shale leasing on federal lands, which was inserted into a spending bill last year. He also said that companies have invested in technology to make oil-shale production more affordable and efficient.
But John Baza, director of the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, said Wednesday that he disagrees with the president's assertion that developing oil shale will help ease current oil prices. Instead, he estimated that commercial production of oil shale is about three to five years from fruition, assuming that industry can even be convinced of its long-term benefits and the environmental hurdles can be handled.
"We'll need, in the future, every form of energy we can develop," he said. "Oil shale in Utah represents a high potential, because we know it's there."
Producing crude oil from oil shale isn't commercially viable today, Baza said, and the president's words represent a continuing disconnect between government and industry that needs to be addressed.
"He's saying that development of that oil shale will affect the high gas prices we're dealing with now, but in order to solve this problem, it's going to take some time," Baza said after the meeting. "Oil shale is not there yet."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who joined Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and former Utah Rep. Jim Hansen in May in making a request for Congress to lift the ban on oil shale leasing, said that Bush's speech "rightfully recognized what Democrats and the elitist environmentalist lobby" regularly ignores: the need for domestic oil.
"The poorest Americans are now spending roughly 50 percent of their income on energy," Hatch said. "The sad thing is that the poor often look to liberals for legislative relief, but in this case they are being sold out by liberals."
Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said he was glad to see the president recognize that Utah can be a leader in producing domestic oil through oil shale.
"We have the capacity to change the dynamic of the world supply and drive down the price at the pump if we focus more on domestic energy resources and promote the development of new technologies," Bennett said.
Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, introduced the "Oil Shale Opportunity Act of 2008" earlier this month that would allow the president to decide to start developing oil shale immediately and skip over the lengthy regulatory process. Like others in the delegation, he is a big proponent of moving oil shale forward.
"We can be energy independent," Cannon said. "The time for talk is over. It is time to act."
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, supports increased domestic production as well as the development of oil shale and tar sands resources in Utah, according to his office.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who also supports the domestic oil proposals, said that "you've got to stop and take notice" when the president singles out a state for such an important issue, and that Utah could be a key player in future energy solutions.Along with oil shale, Bush also wants to increase access to the Outer Continental Shelf and pushed again for permitting exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known as ANWR, in Alaska.