March 30, 2009

Lost In An Energy Wilderness

Energy Policy: The House approves a Senate-passed omnibus bill that puts 2 million more acres of energy-rich land off-limits. We need a government that leads us out of the energy wilderness and not into it.


Last Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed on a 285-148 vote the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (S.22), which confirms our theory that no good comes from legislation labeled "comprehensive" or "omnibus."

S.22 is a smorgasbord of 160 bills totaling more than 1,300 pages and, no, we're not sure how many who voted for it actually read it. A stimulus bill it is not, for it locks up an additional 2 million acres to the 107 million acres of federally owned wilderness areas. That total is more than the area of Montana and Wyoming combined.

Speaking of Wyoming, 1.1 million of these newly restricted acres are in that state. This bill, which also provides $1 billion for a water project designed to save 500 salmon in California, takes about 8.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 300 million barrels of oil out of production in that state, according to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The energy resources walled off by this bill would nearly match the annual production levels of our two natural gas production states — Texas and Alaska. As Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., points out: "We are not suffering from a lack of wilderness areas in the United States. According to the Census Bureau, we have 106 million acres of developed land and 107 million acres of (officially declared) wilderness land."

Earlier this year, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar canceled 77 Utah oil and gas leases that had gone through seven years of studies, negotiations and land-use planning. They were rejected because temporary drilling operations might be "visible" from several national parks more than a mile away. We are not making this up.

Some of these parcels are in or near the Green River Formation, an oil-rich region in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming that's been called the "Persia of the West."

This formation has the largest known oil shale deposits in the world, holding from 1.5 trillion to 1.8 trillion barrels of crude. The Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratory indicates 800 billion of these barrels are recoverable with current technology.

In comparison with Saudi Arabia's oil resources, America's recoverable oil shale resources are nearly three times as large, according to a 2008 report by the Utah Mining Association. As the report notes, the West's oil shale provides America with the "potential to be completely energy self-sufficient with no demands on external sources."

According to the BLM, 16% of the 607 million acres of land owned by the federal government is designated as wilderness in the form of 708 National Wilderness Areas located in the U.S. This bill adds over 80 new wilderness designations or additions to federal lands.

Paul Spitler of the Wilderness Society told CNSNews this is just dandy. "There are some landscapes that are simply more important for their scenic, natural, recreational and ecological values than they are for oil and gas development," he said.

We beg to differ. You can see the sun setting on America's energy and economic future over these landscapes.

Most of the locked-up lands are in Western states where there's enough oil shale to satisfy America's needs for the next 200 years. Modern technology can extract these vast resources from the earth with a minimal footprint.

Technology for shale-oil extraction is certainly further along than getting energy from switch grass or producing cellulosic ethanol. If we're going to stimulate anything, let's stimulate shale-oil production.

It took Moses 40 years to lead his people out of their wilderness to the Promised Land. The green lobby and its friends in Congress are leading the American people in the opposite direction.