In the Washington Watch article in the June 2008 issue of BioScience, Noreen Parks explores the on-going debate over a policy to exploit oil shale in the western United States. This and prior Washington Watch articles may be viewed for free at

An excerpt of the June article follows:

In the continuing quest to diminish US dependence on foreign oil, in 2005 Congress passed the Energy Policy Act (EPAct), which calls for developing unconventional fuels. To fast-track the commercial development of oil shale and tar sands, the law directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for a leasing program, and to issue leasing regulations within two years thereafter. Last December the BLM released its draft EIS, endorsing a strategy to open roughly 1.9 million acres of public lands for development in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

Shale-oil development was last on the national energy scene after the 1970s Arab oil embargo, when the Synthetic Liquid Fuels Program burned through $8 billion of congressional subsidies and propelled western Colorado through a boom-and-bust economy before Congress shut the program down in 1985. “Despite all the attempts to develop a shale-oil industry in the US over the past 100 years, the fact remains that no proven method exists for efficiently removing the oil from the rock,” Bob Loucks, a former shale-oil project manager, attested at a Senate committee hearing last June.

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