Friday news roundup: Endangered species, oily disappointments


This week was a tough one for news watchers. Our favorite Monkee died, yet another member of that rare, endangered species -- the moderate Republican -- fell by the wayside, and good manners seem ever on the wane. Even upstart subway station ads are becoming shockingly rude. Despite our general melancholy, we still took heed of tweets and news items this week, and here is what caught our eye...

Oil shale exploration, far from relaxing

Once again oil shale proves far from being black gold. Chevron is abandoning its lease for oil shale resources in Western Colorado, just weeks after the Bureau of Land Management proposed scaling back acres available for oil shale leasing in Colorado and Utah.  This is the latest in a long line of failed oil shale explorations. Resource Media provides a non-exhaustive roundup; here are a few from their list:

  • Union Oil’s Parachute Creek project, Calif., began construction in 1980, produced oil as a result of federal subsidy, but shut down in 1991.
  • Logan Walsh oil shale site, Colo., mining began in 1972 to test oil shale extraction techniques but by 1986 operations shut down and the oil shale lease was returned to the government.
  • Naval Oil Shale Reserve project: In 1977 the Department of Energy hired a contractor to study the oil shale reserve and tell them what to do with it. The draft EIS recommended the production of natural gas instead.
  • Utah leases: In 1974, three companies partnered and bid $75.6 million for a 5,120-acre federal "prototype” oil shale lease in Utah. A year later they paid another $45 million for an adjacent lease. Several tons of oil shale were extracted to test conditions and technology, but projects on the leases were abandoned in the mid-1980s. The leases were later returned to the government.
  • The company Geokinetics began oil shale tests in Utah in 1974. Through the 70s they sought to perfect a recovery technique. From 1980 to 1982, the company, having acquired about 30,000 private oil shale acres, tested the method – which burned shale rocks to produce fuel – and then abandoned their effort..

Will some enterprising researchers yet find an economic way to extract oil from oil shale reserves? Time will tell. When it comes to oil, hope springs eternal.

More in energy
Attempting to preempt the lawsuits of environmentalists, Shell Oil is asking the Interior Department to review their response plans for oil spills for a proposed drilling project off Alaska's coast. The company hopes to have all regulatory requirements in place to take advantage of the brief summer drilling season.

In New Mexico a cadre of organizations released a report accusing the state's largest utility, the Public Service Company of New Mexico, of needlessly and "aggressively" hiking rates to boost corporate profits and line executive pockets, at the expense of renewable energy investment. PNM has issued a rebuttal in response. (Story from the Santa Fe New Mexican.)

Food stuff(s)
Iowa's legislature passed a bill this week that criminalizes undercover photography and videos inside animal farms. If signed by the governor, Iowa will join Montana, North Dakota and Kansas, which have passed similar laws to punish activists. Illinois, Missouri, Utah, New York, Nebraska, Indiana and Minnesota are considering following suit. Considering undercover videos have brought gross abuses to light, and subsequently improved conditions for farm animals and consumer safety, it's hard to understand how such laws are an advantage for anyone but the agricultural industry.

Fertilizer fraud -- a former president of an organic fertilizer company pleaded guilty in federal court to selling organic farms synthetic fertilizer.

Wildlife, in feathers, in fur and suits
Spotted owls may soon get a larger home in the Northwest. This week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, in compliance with an order from a U.S. District Court, announced a new proposal for critical owl habitat. This begins the public review process of a rule that should be made final in November. The proposal would also allow for the shooting of the rival barred owl, as well as logging to reduce wildfire risk and increase jobs.

At the end of the last ice age, many animals, including coyotes, were bigger than their decendents today. Coyotes, now roughly 30-40 pounds, were once about the same size as wolves, 80-120 pounds, a study published this week reports. Researchers hypothesize the animals shrunk as their large prey and competitors disappeared. 

Bison will now be able to roam slightly more free around Yellowstone National Park. The bison tolerance zone has expanded by 75,000 acres, Montana's Department Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the state Department of Livestock announced this week. Officials hope this will decrease the need for "hazing stray bison."

And finally, a new initiative to protect an endangered political species (via the Onion). 

Danielle Venton is an intern at High Country News. 

Image: Courtesy of the EPA, Photographer David Hiser. Rifle, Col. 1973, Southeast of the Piceance Basin, in the distance oil shale bearing cliffs.

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