Gift to Oil Industry Rushed Into Federal Register Before Bush Leaves Office

Nov 17, 2008

WASHINGTON - Ignoring the wishes of two governors and numerous members of Congress, the Bush administration announced today final regulations for a commercial oil shale program affecting almost 2 million acres of public lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. These regulations lay out the rules governing royalty rates, evaluation of lease bids, mitigation requirements, and other technical and procedural elements of commercial oil shale leasing and production.

In conjunction with this move, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will amend 12 resource management plans (RMPs) in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming to allow oil shale development without the opportunity normally afforded the public to file an administrative appeal, or “protest” of the decision.

“Cooking rocks and scorching the earth is not a solution to our energy crisis,” Amy Mall, a senior policy advisor for NRDC, said. “This is just another government giveaway to Big Oil, which doesn’t make sense when we have better, cleaner energy sources available now. We need to invest in clean energy solutions—like plug-in cars—that will reduce our dependence on oil, not dirtier fuels that spoil public lands, hasten climate change and suck up limited water resources.”

Oil shale is a sedimentary rock containing kerogen which, when heated to extreme temperatures, yields oil. However, the oil shale industry remains years if not decades away from establishing the technical, economic, and environmental viability of the technologies needed to extract and process oil from shale, according to industry representatives. In light of these knowledge gaps, Congress voted last year and the president approved legislation that included a limitation on the BLM’s implementation of a commercial oil shale leasing program.

Despite this limitation, the BLM hurtled ahead, issuing draft regulations for commercial oil shale development on July 22nd. On October 1, the spending limitation enacted by Congress to give the oil shale industry more time to conduct research and development on their privately owned lands and as part of BLM overseen program expired. Even without the limitation, this research will not be completed for many years. Even so, the Bush administration has rushed to finalize these federal regulations. The final regulations have no environmental safeguards and provide for a reduced, or in many cases, non-existent royalty rate for an industry that doesn’t yet exist.

“The Bush administration is maintaining an unlawful position by amending these resource management plans without providing the public with an opportunity to have their decisions administratively appealed,” said Melissa Thrailkill, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “We are considering all our options. That includes legal action in federal court.”

An October 7th letter from The Wilderness Society to the BLM charged that the agency had “deprived the public of an opportunity to provide meaningful comment on the numerous areas included in the [Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement].” The letter further asked that the BLM withdraw the 12 plan amendments until the agency fully complied with applicable laws that require a period for the public to file an administrative appeal. BLM issued a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the 12 resource management plans earlier this year, garnering nearly 105,000 comments during a 120-day period. Many of the comments identified significant deficiencies yet the BLM made no adjustments to the 12 amendments.

“This is not the first time the Bush administration has rammed a policy through while depriving the public of their rights,” said Nada Culver, senior counsel for the Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. “Unfortunately, it probably won’t be the last, either.”

Among the problems with the Draft PEIS were inaccurate estimates of water available in the Colorado River Basin to support a commercial oil shale industry and the BLM’s utter disregard for the potential global warming impacts of pursuing oil shale without significant additional research. Liquid fuels derived from oil shale, often called the dirtiest fuels on the planet, emit as much as 50 percent more global warming gases than conventional gasoline.

Also available is a letter sent to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne warning of impending litigation.