SHALE OIL….Sen. Ken Salazar (D–Col.) writes in the Washington Post today that shale oil crops up every couple of decades as a potential energy savior promising billions of barrels of black gold if only the goo-goos would get out of the way. This time around, he says, the technology for extracting shale oil looks a little more promising than in the past, but it’s still largely unproven:

Unfortunately, the administration’s approach carries none of the Western wisdom acquired over the past century. In a frenzied attempt to move a failed agenda in its last days, the Bureau of Land Management is trying to organize a fire sale of commercial oil shale leases on public land.

This sale would be a tragic case of putting the cart before the horse. How is a federal agency to establish regulations, lease land and then manage oil shale development without knowing whether the technology is commercially viable, how much water the technology would need (no small question in the arid West), how much carbon would be emitted, the source of the electricity to power the projects, or what the effects would be on Western landscapes?

….With more than 30,000 acres of public land at their disposal to conduct research, development and demonstration projects (in addition to 200,000 undeveloped acres of private oil shale lands they own in Colorado and Utah), they already have more land than they can develop in the foreseeable future.

So why is the president hurrying to sell leases for commercial oil shale development in the West’s great landscapes? A fire sale will not lower gas prices. It will not accelerate the development of commercial oil shale technologies.

Why? I suppose because it gives the impression of doing something, and just happens to benefit a bunch of energy companies at the same time. Has the Bush administration ever needed any more reason than that?

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