Oil shale development and its environmental considerations
The petroleum shortage recently experienced by many nations throughout the world has created an intense interest in obtaining new and supplemental energy sources. In the United States, this interest has been centered on oil shale. Any major action by the federal government having significant environmental effects requires compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). Since most oil shale is found on federal lands, and since its development involves significant environmental impacts, leasing oil shale lands to private interests must be in compliance with NEPA. For oil shale, program planning began at approximately the same time that NEPA was signed into law. By structuring the program to permit a resource and technological inventory by industry and the federal agencies, the Department of the Interior was able simultaneously to conduct the environmental assessments required by the act. This required: 1. Clearly defined program objections; 2. An organization which could integrate public policy with diverse scientific disciplines and environmental concerns; and 3. Flexible decisionmaking to adjust to policy changes as well as to evolving interpretations on EPA as clarified by court decisions. This paper outlines the program, the organization structure that was created for this specific task, and the environmental concerns which were investigated. The success of the program has been demonstrated by meeting the requirements of NEPA, without court challenge, and by industry's acceptance of a leasing program that included the most stringent environmental protection provisions ever required. The need for energy development has spurred the acceptance of the program. However, by its awareness and willingness to meet the environmental challenges of the future, industry has shown a reasonable understanding of its commitments. The pros and cons of development were publicly considered in hearings and analyzed in the final environmental statement. This action aided greatly in preventing legal challenges. The prototype oil shale program is now under way and this new energy source, developed with strict environmental safeguards, may soon be available to our nation.