Tucked away on page 43 of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) final rule for oil shale management, things are getting ugly. The topic of oil shale isn’t pretty to begin with – National Resources Defense Council argues it’s the dirtiest fuel on the planet. And the new ruling has already generated talks of a potential lawsuit by environmental groups.
But back to page 43 of the 75-page final rule. Comment EA-14 charges that more environmental review is needed before approximately 2 million acres of public land are opened for leasing for oil shale development, “otherwise the finalization of the rule is arbitrary and capricious.”
BLM responds in the federal register that “the regulations do not cause any change to the environment but establish processes for review of proposals to lease and develop oil shale.”
It is true that the very printing of words into the federal register does not “change” the environment, except for the paper that the register is printed on and any energy expended to print it. But the fact is that providing regulation for leasing clears a path for an industry that is largely unproven with a host of potential environmental impacts.
A government website even confirms many of the problems, from greenhouse gas emissions, disposal of spent shale, heavy use of water resources and impacts on air and water quality.
There’s a silver lining to this ugly cloud. Any actual mining is still probably at least a decade a way – and a lot can happen with clean technologies in 10 years. Even better, legal action by environmental groups or legislative action by the new administration could reverse the push to develop dirty technologies in our public land.