House Panel Holds Field Hearings on Shale Oil

Published September 26, 2011

Concerned that the United States risks falling further behind in the race to tap promising energy sources, a U.S. House of Representatives panel held a field hearing in Grand Junction, Colorado, to examine roadblocks to domestic energy production.

Enormous Domestic Reserves

“The United States is blessed with tremendous oil shale resources—and we have appropriately been called the ‘Saudi Arabia of shale,'” said Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), chairman of the House Resources Committee’s subcommittee on energy and mineral resources, at the August 24 hearing. “Most of that shale is located right here around us, where according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Western United States may hold more than 1.5 trillion barrels of oil—enough to provide the United States with energy for the next 200 years.” 

The United Nations and the World Energy Council estimate 70 percent of world shale oil reserves are in the United States.

The enormous potential of shale oil has been known to geologists for nearly a century. The high price of extraction prevented energy companies from tapping the shale in past decades, but technological advances have recently made oil shale production economically viable. Federal policy decisions, not economic concerns, are now the major impediment to domestic oil shale production.

In 2008 the Bush administration issued a federal rule on the commercialization of oil shale that would have opened up 2 million acres of federal land to development. The Obama administration, however, ordered a new study on the environmental impacts of shale oil development, and the matter now rests in regulatory limbo.  

Obama Halting Development

Dan Whitney, heavy oil development manager for Shell Exploration and Production Co., told the subcommittee at the hearing the new study is holding back applications for three new leases that would create jobs and increase domestic energy production.

“Oil shale is an incredibly vast energy resource, but the Obama administration is bent on not allowing people to develop it,” Dan Simmons, director of state policy at the Institute for Energy Research, told Environment & Climate News. “America’s shale formations contain three times as much oil as there is in all of Saudi Arabia. With today’s technologies and prices, oil shale would be an economic boon for the United States, but the president would rather have us buy oil from Brazil, Venezuela, or some other foreign country.”    

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.