As further proof that the Obama administration is serious about tackling climate change kissing up to big oil, the Dept of Interior announced today that it would go ahead with a second round of federal oil shale leases. While most news outlets focused on the DoI scrutinizing royalties for shale oil, the real news is that the Obama administration is opening up our public lands to destructive oil extraction. “With this new round of [research, development, and demonstration] leases, we hope to move closer to responsibly and sustainably developing our oil shale resources,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Of course there is nothing responsible or sustainable about oil shale. The process of extracting oil shale is similar to tar sands. The land is strip mined, then the oil is baked out of the rock by heating it to high temperatures. This is a process that destroys the land, uses massive amounts of water (most US oil shale is in arid climates), and uses massive amounts of energy. If tar sands are any indicator, it may take as much as 1 barrel of oil to extract two barrels of oil, greatly boosting the carbon footprint of shale oil.
While oil shale is still in the research and develoment phase, and oil companies have yet to find an economical way to extract it, we must take it seriously. Not only is shale oil a global warming time bomb (potential recoverable reserves estimated as high as 800 billion barrels), we would witness the wholesale destruction of our public lands due to strip mining. The majority of oil shale reserves are found on public lands which have remained largely untouched by development. If oil shale gains a foothold we may very well be facing the same atrocious environmental crimes committed in the Alberta tar sands on our home turf.