Breaking: The House of Representatives is expected to vote today to greatly expand taxpayer funds dedicated to support research to develop dirty fuels including oil shale and liquid coal. In a time when federal budgets are being drastically cut across the board, Congress is proposing a fivefold, or $25 million increase, in the Department of Energy’s Unconventional Fossil Energy Technologies program. This outlay would provide additional millions to fund Big Oil’s efforts to develop dirty fuels such as oil shale and liquid coal. This increase in funding would happen despite the fact that after decades of research and taxpayer investment, there are no viable commercial technologies to speak of in relation to these fuels. Congressional champions led by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (VA-D)are demanding that Congress not waste taxpayer’s dollars by seeking to strike this costly expenditure. Please contact your member of Congress now and ask him/her to vote for the Polis/Connolly amendment that would stop this wasteful giveaway to Big Oil.
Background: There are three primary dirty fuels that have been contemplated for development within the United States: liquid coal, tar sands, and oil shale. Producing these dirty fuels would exact an economic and environmental cost that would go far beyond what has been experienced with conventional fuels – with dire consequences for our climate, the air we breathe, the water we drink, public lands, wildlands and wildlife. Despite these obvious problems, in 2005 Congress and the administration established regulations and policies to develop these fuels as spelled out in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Part of that initiative was also to substantially increase investments into research efforts to support oil shale and liquid coal development.
These efforts amounted to direct subsidies to private interests, but investments that did not provide any returns. For instance, millions were spent on liquid coal research, but no amount of research altered the undeniable fact that liquid coal continues to be too expensive to develop. A number of studies, including one from the Department of Defense, found that a modest liquid coal facility would exceed $6 billion to construct; too much for any reasonable investor. Oil shale has a similar arc – in 2007, the Bush administration granted six oil shale research leases and over 30,000 acres of federal lands to such major oil companies as Shell and Chevron. But despite this massive giveaway, which represented billions of potential barrels of oil, and trillions of dollars of potential revenue, this initiative has nothing to show for it. Chevron recently abandoned their research lease, and Shell has had a number of high profile failures in trying to develop a viable technology to extract oil shale from the ground.
This is why the notion of exponentially increasing funding for these expensive, dirty, and ultimately flawed technologies is troublesome. The best course of action would be to continue on a path that invests in clean energy technologies that will produce tangible economic and environmental benefits. The Polis/Connolly amendment is one certain way to accomplish this.