Watchdog Group Sees No Future in Utah Oil Shale

Dec 17, 2012

There are two reasons a Congressional watchdog group opposes oil shale development in eastern Utah and neighboring states. In the report Taxpayers for Common Sense says the government should stop making loan and price guarantees to oil companies to explore an energy source that it says so far hasn't paid off.

"Our concern is that taxpayers are providing subsidies to an industry that one, doesn't need it and two, has already shown that with subsidies cannot be proven to be commercially viable, so with oil shale we feel like we're throwing good money after bad and we think that the federal government cannot afford to go down this path right now."

That was Autumn Hanna, with the group, who says that heating oil shale to be used as a fuel source requires as much energy as it creates. She also says that it's not be confused with the shale oil which is a liquid oil trapped in rock that can be extricated and has been lucrative.

Meanwhile, Utah representative Jim Matheson has co-sponsored a bill by a Texas congressman that would create $50 million in new subsidies for oil companies.

Steve Block with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance says a couple of companies have oil shale projects in the Uintah Basin. His group's concern is that it adds to the area's already series air pollution problems:

"It seems quite shocking and remarkable to think that at a time of financial belt-tightening, we would be offering a leg-up to this industry that has nothing to show for nearly a century's worth of work."

The U.S. Geological Survey says there are "significant technological and environmental challenges" to developing oil shale, and that no current method exists to do it profitably. Some energy companies see that as a call for more research and development.

This photo of an oil shale deposit in Uinta County was taken in 1916. People have been trying since then to find a profitable way to use it as a fuel source.
Credit U.S. Geological Survey