By The Denver Post
Shale oil extracted from the Green River Basin in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming may one day be an important part of this nation's energy portfolio. But it's unlikely to happen anytime soon.
And given concerns about the impact on Colorado communities and the environment as well as uncertainty surrounding the water and energy required to extract shale oil from the earth, we have long urged a pragmatic approach to shale development in western Colorado.
That is why we were pleased when the Bureau of Land Management earlier this month announced they had scaled back Bush-era plans that would have expanded leasing of public land for shale and tar sands development.
The area has long been looked at as a potential "Saudi Arabia" of untapped oil. Unfortunately, as Coloradans know all too well, the potential for shale development has always outweighed the reality.
Oil shale may be an important part of the energy future for a country that is becoming less reliant upon foreign oil, but it's a long way off.
The good news is that, even without large-scale commercial shale leasing, the United States is headed in the direction of energy independence anyway.
Largely as a result of hydraulic fracturing, the U.S. is poised to pass Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer by the end of the decade, the International Energy Agency said in November.
So the need to throw open public land in the Rocky Mountain West for leasing before anyone has developed a method to extract shale oil in a manner that is both economically and environmentally feasible is diminished.
In 2009, the Department of the Interior with former Colorado Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar newly installed at the helm halted the Bush administration's midnight lease offerings for shale development in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Critics contended and Salazar agreed that the leases were too large and offered to energy companies with royalty rates that were far too low.
Recently, the BLM announced that it was reducing from more than 2 million acres to roughly 677,000 acres the amount of federal land in the three states that is available for development. Wilderness quality lands were put off-limits.
While there were some predictable complaints about job-killing and energy security, the reality on the ground in Colorado is that large-scale shale development is nowhere near being practical from an economic standpoint.
But that doesn't mean the effort should be abandoned, and the new BLM rules allow for continued leasing of smaller, 160-acre research plots. In fact, on the same day the new rules were announced, ExxonMobil and Natural Soda Holdings had their permits for in-ground research leases approved.
We're pleased to see the measured plan that's been put forward.
Throwing open the doors to large-scale development before there is either supply or demand would be a regrettable and unnecessary endeavor given recent advances in the nation's energy markets.