WASHINGTON House and Senate Republicans picked up on President Bush's request to open up oil shale exploration in Utah and other domestic oil production options with two bills introduced Thursday.
Each bill would remove the existing ban on the Interior Department from finalizing regulations to allow oil shale exploration on public lands. It would be a means to encourage companies to seek out producing oil in the West.
In a speech from the White House Rose Garden last week, Bush challenged House and Senate Democrats to approve a proposal that would increase domestic production to help reduce gas prices as well as the country's dependence on a foreign energy supply, including developing oil shale.
Although Bush touted it as an immediate solution to gas price increases, opponents such as the Wilderness Society have cautioned that it is not a short-term solution, and the long-term problems may be worse than any benefits.
The Senate Republicans introduced the Gas Price Reduction Act of 2008, which also calls for oil exploration in the outer continental shelf, increase federal money for plug-in cars and increased staff for the Commodities Future Trading Commission.
"Our bill can be summed up in four words: 'Find more, use less,'" said Sen. Alexander Lamar, R-Tenn., at a press conference Thursday with 20 Republican Senators, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah.
Part of the "find more" concept includes looking at oil shale resources. Bennett pointed out that the moratorium barring the Interior Department from finishing the rules of oil exploration on public lands puts the resource off the table for domestic production.
"Nobody is going to play a game in which there are no rules," Bennett said. "So by effectively preventing the drawing up of the rules for the leasing process they have made sure that there will be no exploration on federal lands with respect to oil shale."
Bennett said Utah has a pilot project moving forward on state land that could prove as early as later this summer how technology works to produce oil shale.
"There are over two trillion barrels potentially available for oil shale," Bennett said. "Even if you narrow that down to what is technically available using present technology, and not anticipating any further progress in technology, there are 800 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil in eastern Utah, western Colorado, and southern Wyoming. It's time we get going on that. It's there for the taking, we need to take it."
But Chase Huntley, energy policy advisor for The Wilderness Society said oil shale development is a "cruel fiction on the American people, promising a false solution to high gasoline prices that instead would hand over potentially tens of thousands of acres of federal lands to oil shale speculators.
"This bill falsely promises that oil shale will lower gasoline prices, when in fact the industry is years if not decades away from proving the economic viability, technical feasibility, and environmental safety of the technologies needed to squeeze oil from rock," Huntley said in a statement.
Huntley said the technology to develop oil shale is not ready and its environmental impacts particularly how much water it needs to be developed are not understood.
"Pushing the BLM to finalize rules governing commercial leasing and production of oil shale now is irresponsible," Huntley said.
The Senate bill also includes incentives for plug-in cars or vehicles that would run on batteries and use less gas, something Hatch has been advocating as a way to diversify transportation fuels.
"Some argue we must promote solar, wind, and geothermal as an answer to high gas prices," Hatch said. "Well, obviously, cars and trucks don't run on electricity. But what if we changed all that? Why not use plug-ins to apply hydroelectric, solar, wind, geothermal, and nuclear to our transportation sector?."
Hatch said the electric grid is a domestic resource and much cheaper and cleaner than gas.
Meanwhile, the Republicans from the House Western Caucus introduced the Americans for American Energy Act, which also removes the moratorium from the Interior Department.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, introduced the bill standing between two giant "Declaration of Energy Independence" posters playing off the upcoming July Fourth holiday, which caucus members signed.
"Congress should end the tyrannical rule over our nation by hostile foreign nations by encouraging more production of American energy from all of America's bountiful resources," according to the "declaration."
The House bill is more extensive than the Senate one and includes opening up oil drilling in the Arctic Natural Wildlife Refuge. The Senate bill purposely left that proposal out, Alexander said, because some Democrats have problems with it.
But Bishop is glad to see ANWR in the House bill."You can't piddle around," Bishop said. "You either do everything or you don't do everything."