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Shell Abandons Colorado Oil Shale Project

Shell Oil has announced that it is halting oil shale research and development work in Colorado.  The company's decision to pull out of the oil shale business follows a similar decision by Chevron Corps last year and underscores the many troubles posed by dirty oil shale development.  Shell's is the latest in a host of failed efforts since the turn of the last century to exploit oil shale in northwest Colorado and elsewhere. The 1982 “Black Sunday” oil shale bust left 2,000 people unemployed and the local economy devastated when Exxon Mobile abandoned the nearby Colony Oil Shale Project.

The news doesn't bode well for Red Leaf Resources just across the border in Utah, where the company is vying for a state permit to mine and process oil shale on one of the West's most ecologically diverse and wildlife rich regions, the Tavaputs Plateau. You can let the state permitting authority know how you feel by writing uwqcomments@utah.gov

The Green River Formation, which runs beneath Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, is thought to hold large oil reserves locked in the shale rock. Recently, the Bureau of Land Management proposed to open up 800,000 acres of public land atop the formation for oil shale development. However, as major oil companies have demonstrated, oil shale extraction comes at a cost that is just too high-- economically and environmentally.

Large scale oil shale development requires unproven technologies, a host of new polluting coal-fired power plants, and significant amounts of energy and water to superheat the oil shale rock and extract the oil. In an already water-strapped Colorado River basin it poses serious threats to water quantity and quality, endangering the region's agricultural economy and downstream communities, as well as four types of endangered fish. According to some estimates oil shale development could use one and a half times as much water as the city of Denver.

The impacts on our public lands are no better. Oil shale extraction would mar the landscape so integral to the region's identity and harm wildlife. And then there is the carbon pollution.  Developing oil sands from the Green River Formation could generate over 70 billion tons of new carbon pollution. If released, that carbon would seriously worsen climate disruption, while undermining climate change mitigation efforts.  For example, the Green River Formation's 70 billion tons of carbon dwarfs the 6 billion tons of carbon pollution that will be eliminated by President Obama's new automobile efficiency standards.

It's time for President Obama and his Bureau of Land Management to stop backing risky oil shale development and withdraw the 800,000 leased acres from such development.  Our nation's public lands should not be used to further mire our country in dirty energy; they should be left intact to help mitigate climate disruption instead of worsening it; and they should be preserved for future generations to explore and enjoy. The way forward for our country is clean energy, like wind and solar, and better fuel efficiency and transportation options.  It does not have to come at the cost of our public lands, waters and wildlife.

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