It seems that fracking’s ugly cousin, oil shale extraction, is roaring its ugly head in the Rockies this week as the Republican-led Congress passed a bill on the 16th to require the Bureau of Land Management to create at least five commercial lease sales on the government-held land in the Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming regions where oil shale exists. Oil shale extraction is a time-intensive and costly method of removing kerogen, from which shale oil can be extracted using special processes and can be used as a substitute for crude oil. Environmentalists argue that it is a destructive process that has not been tested fully to ensure safety to water sources and nearby wildlife. Proponents say it is a great way to create some good old American-made energy, by spending a ton of cash to destroy an ecosystem where we could instead just stick some windmills on the same land for less cost and call it a day.
“Oil shale seems to be a really bad bet for the energy future,” Bobby McEnaney, land-policy analyst, told Bloomberg News. “ We already know that other energy sources out there are cheaper, quicker and viable, such as wind.” McEnaney explains his position against the House proposal in a blog post on the NRDC’s website. “In the hearing for the PIONEERS Act, Republicans stuck to the notion that an oil shale industry would thrive only if we eliminated government regulation and interference from environmentalists,” McEnaney explains. “This ignores the fact that oil shale – which is literally a solid rock that contains oil-like substances – has never been successfully commercially developed (despite over a century of concerted efforts).”
Oil shale extraction employs the use of a number of disastrous techniques to extract kerogen from the Earth at which time it must then be processed to remove shale oil. If the kerogen is located close to the Earth’s surface companies use surface mining, open pit mining or strip mining to remove it. If it is buried deeper, a process similar to fracking is employed to remove it.
Despite the issues being raised by BLM and experts across the country, the House is pushing forward with its bill which is intended to raise much needed revenue for the U.S. Treasury from new federal land leases to oil and gas companies. Much like the situation with the Keystone XL pipeline, this bill would push forward shale oil extraction leases without proper testing of the techniques involved which could poison local water supplies, much like what has happened with fracking for natural gas. Though the legislation is far from becoming law, it raises concerns about Congresses respect for the integrity of America’s ecosystems and the health of those communities living in the oil shale regions.
Lead image by D Searls on Flickr
Second image by Ralpe on Flickr