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RMFU Urges Interior to Go Slow on Oil Shale

In a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, RMFU President Kent Peppler urged the department to proceed with caution on oil shale development. “The oil companies have been long on promises and short on delivery with oil shale,” Peppler said. “What we do know is that oil shale development will use up scarce water supplies. That’s robbing Peter to pay Paul, and agriculture can’t afford it.”

The letter to the Interior Department points out that 30 years ago, oil companies were claiming that commercial production of oil shale would allow the U.S. to “completely eliminate” imports of oil and gas in the next century, with Exxon estimating a “production level of 15 million barrels per day achieved” by 2010.

Today, that promise has not been fulfilled, and oil shale development is still far from reality. “Given the questions that remain about the impact of oil shale development on local communities and water supplies,” Peppler said, “that is probably a good thing.”

Farmers and ranchers remain concerned that commercial oil shale development could hurt rural communities and agriculture. It’s not clear how much water could be pulled away from agriculture. It’s not clear how much farm and rangeland would be overrun by development. It’s likely that rural communities would be transformed into industrial ghettos by commercial-scale oil shale development operations.

Shell Oil recently stated that its oil shale experiments consume three barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced. If that proportion holds, then producing millions of barrels of oil from shale each day, as they have forecast, could wipe out many farms and ranches across the West and damage or destroy already stressed watersheds like the Colorado River.

Water is the lifeblood of the West. Generations of Coloradoans have said it, in English and in Spanish: “No water, no life.” The letter concludes, “We should not risk our water, our food security, and our regional economic stability for a promise that has not been fulfilled for over 100 years. It is time to move on to more viable forms of energy development, such as wind and solar.” The letter urges the department to look carefully at potential impacts to local water supplies and communities as it studies the impact of oil shale development.

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