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Oil Shale Revival for Montana?

September 25, 2008

Helena, MT – The federal ban on leasing land for oil shale production could soon be lifted, if the U.S. Senate passes a proposal that is in both the House-approved energy bill and the federal spending bill. A proposal to remove the ban is expected this week, and although Montana has a limited amount of oil shale, neighboring Wyoming has plenty.

That could intensify strained relations over water between the two states, according to Craig Thompson, a scientist who worked on oil shale production in the 1960s. He says billions of gallons of water, along with a lot of electricity, would be needed to get at the oil, and that's why energy companies haven't been pushing for oil shale production.

"I've not seen anything that makes me think that they can produce it in an economically and environmentally sound way."

Extraction of oil from shale rock has been criticized for the amount of climate-change pollution it generates, and for destruction of land when the oil-bearing shale is accessed by strip-mining. Those challenges, says Thompson, make the process more trouble than it's worth, when there are renewable energy products that are cheaper and quicker.

"We are going to the ends of the earth for the last drops in the bucket, and oil shale is not the way to do it."

Oil shale is being promoted as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil, and states would have the option to oppose development. The oil shale development measures are part of the Comprehensive American Energy Security and Taxpayer Protection Act (HR 6899).

Deborah Smith/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - MT