By Max Wilbert / Deep Green Resistance Great Basin

On April 19th, myself and other organizers from the Salt Lake City community attended the Morning Energy Update, a meeting hosted by the Utah State Office of Energy Development. The meeting was held in a small conference room at the World Trade Center Utah building.

The room was full – us five or six activists mixed in with energy industry businesspeople, State and County officials, and one or two journalists. I sat next to Cody Stewart, the energy advisor to Gary Herbert, the Governor of the State of Utah.

The main topic of the meeting was the development of Oil Shale in eastern Utah, in Uintah and Grand Counties – areas already hard hit by oil and gas extraction and threatened with Tar Sands extraction.

Rikki Hrenko, the CEO of Enefit American Oil (an Estonian shale oil corporation) was the keynote. She presented about the “economic sustainability” and moderate environmental impact of the project.

I responded with the following statement:

Any claims about oil shale having a low impact are simply ridiculous – we are talking about strip mining a vast area of wild lands in the watershed of the Colorado, whose water is already so taxed by cities and agriculture that the river never reaches the ocean. Instead, it simply turns into a stream, then a trickle, then cracked mud for the last 50 miles.

The WorldWatch Institute states that oil shale is simply an awful idea:

“Studies conducted so far suggest that oil shale extraction would adversely affect the air, water, and land around proposed projects. The distillation process would release toxic pollutants into the air—including sulfur dioxide, lead, and nitrogen oxides. Existing BLM analysis indicates that current oil shale research projects would reduce visibility by more than 10 percent for several weeks a year. And NRDC states that in a well-to-wheel comparison, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from oil shale are close to double those from conventional crude, with most of them occurring during production. According to the Rand Corporation, producing 100,000 barrels of oil shale per day would emit some 10 million tons of GHGs.

The BLM reports that mining and distilling oil shale would require an estimated 2.1 to 5.2 barrels of water for each barrel of oil produced—inputs that could reduce the annual flow of Colorado’s White River by as much as 8.2 percent. Residues that remain from an in-situ extraction process could also threaten water tables in the Green River Basin, the agency says.

NRDC notes that the infrastructure needed to develop oil shale would impose equally serious demands on local landscapes. The group warns that impressive arrays of wildlife would be displaced as land is set aside for oil shale development. And it says that while open pit mining would scar the land, in-situ extraction would require leveling the land and removing all vegetation.

In addition to the environmental impacts of oil shale, vast amounts of energy are required to support production. In Driving it Home, NRDC cites Rand Corporation estimates that generating 100,000 barrels of shale oil would require 1,200 megawatts of power—or the equivalent of a new power plant capable of serving a city of 500,000 people. Proponents of oil shale have a stated goal of producing one million barrels of the resource per day.”