Fine print, oil shale, and Cap'n Crunch

oil shale territory

Read the fine print and you'll find that the financial rescue package passed by Congress last week also provided a big favor for dirty fuels that have a much greater climate impact than conventional fuel. Yep - more than $4 billion of taxpayer dollars was given away to oil companies refining tar sands, oil shale, or liquid coal.  This special gift was included even though companies are already building tar sands refineries without any government hand-out.

Dirty fuels have been a hot topic in D.C. this year. Some politicians claimed that oil shale regulations were needed to help lower gas prices. This was pure snake oil, given that research on oil shale technologies won't be completed for years, and any real commercial-scale production is likely decades away. But companies are interested in locking in favorable rules to lease large tracts of public land while there is an industry-friendly administration, and the Bush administration is cooperating by rushing to finalize regulations before it leaves office. How a government agency can write regulations for an industry that does not exist and for technologies and impacts that are unknown is beyond me. Nevertheless, the administration's proposed regulations offer favorable royalty rates to industry and lack environmental protections. Some members of Colorado's congressional delegation worked to put these regulations on hold until research is completed and industrial impacts are known, but were unsuccessful in the melee of gas price politics.

Last week I visited the lands in western Colorado that are the prime target for oil shale development. Much of the land remains untouched and a haven for wildlife.

NRDC recently co-sponsored a series of presentations in Colorado and Utah on oil shale and tar sands. Photographer Garth Lenz presented his photos of the tragic devastation occurring in Canada's boreal forest. His photos are a lot better than mine! You can see them yourself at: His photos hold important lessons for any future oil shale development in the lower 48. In addition, energy analyst Randy Udall presented his analysis of oil shale, including his conclusion that oil shale has less energy potential than Cap'n Crunch® cereal.

You can read more about these dirty fuels at and about NRDC's proposals for cleaner solutions through fuel efficiency, conservation, and renewable alternatives at: