Prove oil shale is viable before going to the well

I am a third-generation Wyoming rancher and served as a land and water resource manager in the Department of Interior for over 30 years, most recently as associate state director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Wyoming. I later served as professor of environmental and natural resources at the University of Wyoming.

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I am a westerner and I love this country. Common sense energy and land policies are good for this country, and serve and protect western economies. 

This past November, I testified before Congress to send a clear message: Oil shale is not a viable energy source, and we cannot afford to gamble away our lands and livelihoods in the West.

Oil and gas drilling is higher today than at any point in the last 24 years. Wind and solar energy continue to grow by leaps and bounds. The same is not true for oil shale.

Oil giants such as Chevron, Shell and ExxonMobil already possess 200,000 acres of land for oil shale speculation. Shell alone has more than $1 trillion worth of oil shale deposits. But the industry’s best engineers and scientists do not have a commercially viable way to create fuel from oil shale rock.

The barrier to commercial development is the same as it’s always been – the rock itself.

Oil shale is nothing more than Wall Street-style speculation that uses our public lands as collateral. There are zero jobs and zero revenue in oil shale because there is zero energy from oil shale.

That is why Rep. Doug Lamborn’s (R-CO) PIONEER Act would not solve any of our domestic energy or employment challenges. And it’s laughable at best and disingenuous at worst that Speaker Boehner proposed paying for repairs to our crumbling transportation infrastructure with funds from an energy source that will never materialize.

In fact, the legislation creates a new taxpayer-funded subsidy for companies like Shell by allowing cuts to royalties and shifting basic infrastructure and services costs onto the backs of struggling local governments.

Lamborn’s boondoggle would also risk real American jobs that we have today in the agricultural, tourism and outdoor recreation industries in favor of oil shale speculation.

Taxpayers have funded oil shale land deals and direct subsidies for nearly a century – including a $1.2 billion 1982 loan guarantee to Exxon on a project that failed just one year later, leaving western Colorado communities in ruin.

Rep. Lamborn’s bill is simply an effort by industry to fuel speculation at taxpayers’ expense.

America is facing energy challenges that are not easily solved. What members of Congress need to remember is that a complex challenge requires smart policy – not throwing good money after bad at a failed idea.

Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and others should prove that oil shale is viable before going to the well with legislation that sets aside millions of acres of public lands and creates new subsidies.

Congress should pass legislation to prod the oil and gas industry to develop the 22 million acres of public lands – and 7,000 unused drilling permits – leased to industry for the development of proven energy resources. Also, Congress should support policies that would increase the on-the-ground production of solar and wind, such as the highly successful production tax credit.

Now is the time to make smart decisions about energy, not continue the century-old mistakes of oil shale speculation.

Bill Eikenberry is a third-generation Wyoming rancher and former associate state director of the Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming, where he was responsible for 1,000 employees and managed 18 million acres of public land.