June 9, 2008

DOMESTIC ENERGY PRODUCTION — Not a goal, apparently:

You’d think with gas prices topping $4 and consumers crying uncle, Congress would be moving fast to spur development of a domestic oil resource so vast – 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil shale in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming alone – it could eventually rival the oil fields of Saudi Arabia.

You’d think politicians would be tripping over themselves to arrange photo-ops with Harold Vinegar (whom I profiled in Fortune last November), the brilliant, Brooklyn-born chief scientist at Royal Dutch Shell whose research cracked the code on how to efficiently and cleanly convert oil shale – a rock-like fossil fuel known to geologists as kerogen – into light crude oil.

You’d think all of this, but you’d be wrong.

Last month, the U.S. Senate’s Appropriations Committee voted 15-14 to kill a bill that would have ended a one-year moratorium on enacting rules for oil shale development on federal lands (which is where the best oil shale is located). Most maddening of all – at least to someone like myself not steeped in the wacky ways of Washington – the swing vote on the appropriations committee, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., voted with the majority even though she actually opposes the moratorium.

“Sen. Salazar asked me to vote no. I did so at his request,” Landrieu told The Rocky Mountain News. . . . Salazar says he’s simply trying to slow things down in order to ensure environmental considerations don’t get trampled in the rush to turn western Colorado into a new Prudhoe Bay. But, ironically, his bid to extend the moratorium comes at a time when his fellow Senate Democrats have been blasting Big Oil for not reinvesting enough of their profits into developing new sources of energy.

Read the whole thing.

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