Today’s Energy Bill is Not the Answer

Sagegrouse_sept_16_08_2 The public wants Congress to take the urgent and necessary steps that will give consumers better energy choices, cut oil dependency and cut global warming pollution.

Because of the provision allowing commercial oil shale leasing, the Comprehensive American Energy Security and Taxpayer Protection Act (H.R. 6899) that’s being voted on today by the House of Representatives fails to address the fundamental challenge of avoiding significant new increases in global warming pollution and protecting important wildlife habitat on our public lands.

The Comprehensive American Energy Security and Taxpayer Protection Act does include several important provisions that would advance clean energy solutions and reduce global warming pollution, including the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), tax incentives for conservation and renewable energy, cuts in subsidies and giveaways for big oil, and building codes that would increase efficiency in our home and offices. Unfortunately, HR 6899 also affirmatively lifts and does not extend a longstanding moratorium on commercial oil shale leasing, putting at risk millions of acres of wildlife habitat throughout the Rocky Mountain West important to hunters, anglers and other wildlife enthusiasts. Moreover, commercial oil shale leasing could lead to dramatic increases in global warming pollution that far outweigh the good provisions in this bill.

Even the best emerging technology for oil shale production would result in 20-45% more global warming pollution per gallon as compared to conventional gasoline. Other technologies to develop oil shale can generate up to five times as much carbon dioxide as conventional gasoline.

The United States cannot change course on its rising global warming pollution levels while so dramatically increasing the carbon dioxide in the nation’s transportation fuels.

A viable shale industry would also have significant direct impacts on wildlife, and inevitably collide with consumer water needs in the arid West. Shale production requires at least three to five gallons of water to produce one gallon of fuel, and the vast majority of shale is located in arid states with limited water resources. The federal government reports that a viable shale industry would consume upwards of 300 million gallons of water daily. Combined with the massive disturbance of land and habitat caused by shale extraction, this fuel presents a grave risk to sensitive wildlife habitat in the Rocky Mountain West.

Most of America’s oil shale is found in Green River Formation which is home to some of the most valuable wildlife habitat in the United States. The area supports an impressive array of wildlife, from mule deer and elk to mountain lions, bald eagles, sage grouse, and native trout fisheries. It also provides drinking water to local communities. Millions of Americans, including sportsmen and women, enjoy our public lands for recreational, commercial, or professional activities related to fish and wildlife that would be threatened by oil shale development.

The expected "motion to recommit" is anticipated to include expensive subsidies for coal to liquids and no restrictions on oil shale leasing, in addition to drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and other national treasures.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, expanded drilling will have an "insignificant" impact on oil prices, saving consumers a few pennies a gallon decades from now. In just the last eight years we’ve seen a 260 percent increase in drilling on our public lands while the price of gas has more than doubled. We need to minimize expanded drilling and ensure that our nation’s most cherished public lands and waters remain protected.

With only 3% of the world’s oil, the United States could drill every national park, wildlife refuge and coastline, and still be importing most of its oil. As long as we are dependent on oil, we are susceptible to global supply and demand factors and the OPEC cartel, which can easily increase or decrease production to affect prices, easily adjusting to any new U.S. oil production.

Any final energy legislation acted on by Congress must meet the test of giving consumers real energy choices, reducing global warming pollution, and protecting our treasured landscapes for future generations. With the inclusion of commercial oil shale leasing, legislation being considered by the House of Representatives today fails to meet this test.

Larry Schweiger

Published: September 16, 2008