Don’t block needed research to assess oil shale potential

I recently joined two other state senators in sending a letter to Mark Udall and Michael Bennet. We urged the U.S. senators from Colorado to support a provision included in a U.S. House-passed funding resolution that would block the blatant obstructionism of oil shale research and development originating from the desk of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

More specifically, the House provision would halt Salazar’s decision to take a

so-called “fresh look” and impose new restrictions on the oil shale research and development program on federal lands, a limited program that already has significant environmental restrictions and protections. Salazar’s decision to enter into a wink-and-a-nod settlement with the environmentalist opponents of oil shale and appease them by scoping out a new round of restrictions and royalty requirements is exactly the wrong policy for the Western Slope, for Colorado and indeed for America.

In the U.S. House, there was bipartisan support to block Salazar’s new and punitive oil shale restrictions. Leading the way were U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah), the two congressmen who represent the areas that are home to the lion’s share of the nation’s oil shale reserves.

The push was bipartisan because people of all backgrounds and political stripes have come to know that our region needs the investment and jobs that a robust R&D program create. And current events in the Middle East and the skyrocketing price of gasoline make it even clearer the continued obstruction of oil shale R&D would be national security malfeasance.

State Sens. Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) and Jean White (R-Hayden) and I understand full well the history of oil shale development. The push to commercially extract this resource has gone through dramatic fits and starts for more than a generation. But that doesn’t mean that the federal government should willy-nilly waive the white flag on this mammoth bed of energy resources.

With 1.5 trillion barrels of potentially recoverable oil just beneath the Green River geologic formation in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, it would be the height of foolishness to choke out promising new oil shale technologies with a battery of new regulations and restrictions like environmentalists are demanding and Salazar is now contemplating. Indeed, the recent transformational progress in developing shale gas proves that time, investment and technological advancement can unlock vast reserves of domestic energy resources. This could very well be true of oil shale development, too, if the federal government will stop injecting additional complexity and uncertainty into a task that is challenging enough in its own right.

We’re not naive enough to think that commercial scale oil shale development will happen quickly or easily. Many large questions remain unanswered, and one key commercial participant in the R&D effort – Shell – has said that commercial-scale development is still years away. But the R&D process under attack by environmentalists and Salazar has its proverbial eyes wide open, too, establishing a sensible regulatory framework to determine whether and how these questions can be answered. Under the terms of the R&D program that Salazar is attacking, any future commercial-scale oil shale production would require an additional finding by the federal government, additional environmental analysis and scores of other mandates and requirements at the local, state and federal levels. Salazar would have the public believe that, absent his obstruction and intervention, large commercial interests could simply throw the switch on an oil shale land rush. Such rhetoric is irresponsible.

In fact, the point of the entire R&D process is to prove whether a commercial- scale oil shale program is economically and environmentally possible. Significant questions still exist, which is the point of the R&D program in the first place.

To us, it would seem that Salazar and his environmental obstructionists aren’t interested in an answer to these legitimate questions. They would rather stall out the R&D process than learn whether or not the best and brightest minds in the energy world can unlock this harbinger to America’s energy security. This is irresponsible and unacceptable.

Even if commercial oil shale development is 10 years away, we should set the stage in the here and now for that to happen. Too many politicians are busy thinking about the next news cycle or the next election. We need elected leaders in Washington who will start thinking about the next generation. And whether it’s for the benefit of this generation or the next, it’s clear a commercial oil shale program has unspeakable promise for a nation in need of jobs and domestic energy sources.

It’s apparent Secretary Salazar and the environmentalists have lost touch with the concept that a healthy, robust economy and energy independence is a critical part of our environment. That’s the reason we encouraged Bennet and Udall to show true leadership and true bipartisanship and support the efforts of the U.S. House of Representatives in blocking Salazar’s irresponsible move. Our economic and national security interests require it.


Steve King
Steve King





State Sen. Steve King (R-Grand Junction) represents District 7, which includes Mesa County and part of Garfield County. Reach him by e-mail at