Fast-tracking of oil shale development leases on public lands in Wyoming is taking a detour. The Department of the Interior has announced a new go-slow approach that's getting kudos from sportsmen’s groups, ranchers, and conservationists.
Steve Torbit with the National Wildlife Federation is a Wyoming hunter who has spent years studying the potential impact of commercial oil shale development, which requires a lot of water and energy to squeeze the oil-like substance out of underground rock formations.
Oil shale under Wyoming, Colorado and Utah is often touted as the largest untapped “oil reserve” in the world, but Torbit says that’s an inaccurate portrayal because oil shale can’t be extracted by simply drilling a well. And Torbit says a current Shell Oil experimental project relies on a lot of energy and water, and on flattening wide tracts of land – an approach he doesn’t see as viable for people or wildlife.
Torbit notes an oil shale experiment in Wyoming 40 years ago resulted in a Superfund site, where cleanup continues to this day to try to decontaminate underground water.
Backers of oil shale see it as key to reducing dependence on foreign oil and view the new “go-slow” approach as a detriment to spurring companies to fund research.