02/07/2012 02:46 pm ET | Updated Apr 08, 2012

Salazar Gets It Right, Boehner and Lamborn Get It Wrong On Oil Shale

Last week, the Department of the Interior released its 2012 Oil Shale Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement.

By issuing a draft plan that would require companies to prove that development can be commercially viable without serious negative consequences for local economies, lands and water, Interior ensured that millions of acres of public lands won't be handed over prematurely to an unproven industry.

For more than a century, Westerners have been promised a technological and economic breakthrough in the form of "oil shale" development in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. And yet, industry's best engineers and scientists still have not found a commercially viable way to create fuel from oil shale rock. Zero jobs and zero revenue have been created. In addition to the technological hurdles facing oil shale, there continues to be a huge concern for ranchers and farmers about scarcity of water and the amount that would be necessary to make oil shale development viable. The Bureau of Land Management estimates that industrial scale oil shale development could require as much as 150 percent of the amount of water the Denver Metro Area consumes each year.

That's what makes Secretary Ken Salazar's approach to oil shale development so rational: it ensures that the impacts to water are fully understood, and that future decisions on oil shale are made based on that understanding. 

At the same time the Secretary is urging these questions to be answered, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) is pushing through the PIONEERS Act, which would preempt Salazar's approach and fast-track oil shale development. The legislation comes with an endorsement from House Speaker Boehner, who hopes to use non-existent revenue from the bill to pay for much-needed repairs to our crumbling infrastructure -- a smoke-and-mirrors plan that is laughable at best and disingenuous at worst.

In fact, Lamborn's bill, which I testified against last November before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, actually 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.

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 and left western Colorado communities in ruin. 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 to Big Oil, raids the National Treasury, and destroys millions of acres of public land.

Interior should be applauded for moving forward with what appears to be a well thought-out position on oil shale. They realize that the challenges facing oil shale development are great and must be fully addressed before pressing forward with a serious commitment of our precious land and water resources.

Representative Lamborn, and those who support his misguided legislation, should put to rest their political gamesmanship and get serious about meeting the nation's energy needs. More than 20 million acres of public lands have already been cleared for traditional oil and gas development by the BLM, tucked away in the portfolios of the same Big Oil companies that are now pressing hard for additional federal subsidies for oil shale speculation. Congress should first address plans for those 20+ million acres before they even begin to consider dedicating more valuable space for oil shale's tenuous future.