Oil Shale: A Century of Failure

Wednesday, May 02, 2012, marks 30 years since Black Sunday hit the Western Slope of Colorado, putting thousands of people out of work and devastating the region’s economy. Just two days prior, the Checks and Balances Project released a report, which examines 100 years of failed investment in oil shale.  

Executive summary

Since 1917, when a government official persuaded a Nevada parole board to release a prisoner so the inmate could develop his oil shale extraction idea, experts, insiders, executives and the federal government have dumped billions into efforts to tap oil shale, leaving nothing but failed projects behind.

The oil industry has had plenty of help. The federal government crafted oil shale policies that have effectively transferred thousands of acres of public land to oil companies and have created a leasing structure that could potentially transfer billions of dollars of public wealth to the oil companies. Never before have we given this much to an industry that has yet to show commercial success.

Not one single oil shale project since the first attempts in the late 1920s has ever produced commercial fuel from shale rocks. In fact, one of the few direct results of the federal support has been premature oil shale booms that have ultimately busted.

For all the efforts the American taxpayers have made toward developing oil shale for the oil industry, every effort to sustain commercial production of the resource in the last century has failed.

And the optimism for oil shale is here again, especially amid rising oil prices.

Yet oil companies that obtained research oil shale leases atop rich deposits in northwest Colorado still say it might be another decade before commercial oil shale production ever begins, echoing those headlines from the past 100 years.

Download the full report.

Breaking from DeSmogBlog

DeSmogBlog today released a comprehensive report on the dangers posed by hydraulic fracturing to public drinking water, land and our health. Based on the findings of the report and recent events, DeSmogBlog is calling for a national moratorium on fracking until further independent research demonstrates that the process does not contaminate drinking water, pollute land or impact the global climate.

See DeSmogBlog’s post below and study here.

Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Our Water, Health and Climate – Report

The United States is at the center of a high profile controversy over the threats posed by unconventional gas drilling, particularly surrounding the industry’s hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling techniques. Amidst the dirty energy industry’s rush to drill the last of America’s dwindling fossil fuel reserves, a growing number of independent scientists, politicians, environmental organizations and impacted citizens are urging the nation’s lawmakers to adopt a more cautious and informed approach to the fracked gas boom.The oil and gas industry, however, is fighting back against calls for caution, suggesting that it has everything under control – much like it did prior to BP’s offshore drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

In a new report released today, “Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Water, Health, and Climate,” DeSmogBlog details the concerns that scientists, cancer specialists, ecologists, investigative journalists and others have raised about the unconventional gas boom. Featuring original interviews and unpublicized reports, “Fracking The Future” delves into many of the key issues in the unconventional gas debate.

DeSmogBlog is calling for a nationwide moratorium on fracking, citing the fact that the potential impacts on water, health, and climate appear greater than previously understood. A moratorium is necessary to protect the public while fracking is studied much more thoroughly in order to determine if the risks of this practice outweigh the benefits.

Additionally, since state regulators have failed to safeguard the public from the ill effects of gas fracking, federal health and safety officials must be empowered to hold the gas industry accountable for damage to public health, drinking water and the environment.

The report traces the massive industry lobbying efforts to confuse the public and stifle long-overdue federal oversight of the unconventional gas drilling bonanza. We review the sordid history of industry favoritism by the Bush administration, typified by the infamous Halliburton Loophole, which created a recipe for recklessness that has led to air and water contamination and drilling-related accidents.  But the prioritization of industry greed above public health and safety didn’t start there.

Since the Reagan era, those charged with protecting health and the environment have instead worked with the gas industry to minimize public awareness of its practices, and to hide the early warning signs regarding the inherent dangers of drilling deeper into the Earth for fossil fuels. State agencies have been pressured to accommodate the industry’s increasingly dangerous drilling techniques, and have largely enabled the poor, unmonitored practices common in the industry today.

The gas industry is investing millions of dollars each year to restrict oversight to the state level and thwart all federal involvement. The number of gas industry lobbyists has increased seven-fold in recent years, exhibiting the dangerous political sway the dirty energy industry exercises in Washington and at the local level across the nation.

Industry front groups like Energy in Depth (EID) play a pivotal role in the dissemination of misinformation and efforts to attack and silence those who attempt to call polluters to account.

Despite EID’s claims to represent small, independent “mom and pop” gas producers, internal industry documents uncovered by DeSmogBlog reveal that the group was created with seed funding from Big Oil multinationals. When communicating with its industry friends, EID continues to repeatedly tout the funding it receives from BP, Halliburton, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and other oil giants that certainly don’t fit the “mom and pop shop” characterization.

With international attention focused on the U.S. experience with unconventional gas, “Fracking the Future” urges a cautious approach and much greater industry transparency.  The public deserves to know the true costs of fracked unconventional gas before allowing the oil and gas industry to carry on with its pursuit of this fossil fuel.

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