Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Senator warns about oil shale frenzy

There was a fine column in the Durango Herald on Sunday from U.S. Senator Ken Salazar reminding West Slopers of the history of bad busts from past oil-shale rushes that came to nothing. Sen. Salazar reminds us all that there have been West Slope oil-shale booms at the turn of the 20th Cenutry, in the 1920s, 1940s, and in the 1970s and 80s. (That most recent boom and subsequent bust is well documented in Andrew Gulliford's highly readable Boomtown Blues.) Each of these booms, Salazar argues, came to nothing -- and West Slopers were left to live with the mess and pay the bills.

A particular danger in the present boom that Salazar cites in the Bush Administration's rush to lease vast tracts of Colorado's and the West's public lands to oil companies for oil shale exploration and development -- even though the technology is still not yet invented to economically turn oil shale into fuel. (On Tuesday, the Bush Administration even proposed lowering those leasing fees charged the record-profit-earning oil companies to develop oil shale on public lands!) The Bush Administration is arguing that oil shale is needed now to alleviate high gas prices -- which is ludicrous, since commercially viable oil shale is several years away (if ever).

But, of course, it's the same argument now wielded to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development and to lift the offshore drilling ban. Just like history shows: The profiteers will do whatever it takes to keep the boom going -- people, land, and public domain be damned. Or mined.

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