The Bureau of Land Management is, in effect, readying to subsidize global warming as the federal agency prepares regulations on how to let private industry seek out 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil locked in shale deposits in the West on public lands, the group Western Resource Advocates claimed this week.
The Colorado-based nonprofit group was responding to the end of a public comment period Monday for the BLM's draft regulations that will impact how shale deposits are developed, mainly in the oil-rich area under the so-called Green River formation that spans Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.
"The decision to pursue commercial development of oil shale at this time defies common sense, given how little BLM knows about oil shale development technologies and their impacts," Western Resource Advocates executive director Karin Sheldon said in a statement. "With low royalty rates and the consequences for our climate, BLM's rules would subsidize global warming."
Sheldon's group claims that current methods needed to extract oil from shale on a commercial scale will greatly increase carbon dioxide emissions, contributing to climate change.
"Taxpayers should not be asked to support an industry before it is known how royalties will be charged for the product that industry plans to produce and whether those payments will compensate for the damage to public lands and the environment," Sheldon said.
Advocates of oil shale development say going after shale deposits will help move the country toward energy independence and eventually yield lower fuel prices. Some say the ability to begin small-scale development of oil shale is already here, while Big Oil has said commercial development is still years away as extraction technologies continue to evolve.
Right now, however, there is a moratorium on leasing public lands for shale development that only Congress can lift. Utah Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett have been calling on their colleagues to lift that ban.
In the meantime, The Wilderness Society on Monday also sharply criticized what it called the BLM's push to finalize its leasing regulations for public lands in arid states already with limited water resources, which critics contend will be further impacted by shale development. The group cites experts who believe that commercial oil shale production is 10 years away while "large-scale renewable energy production from wind, solar and geothermal is available today."