Schaffer, Udall Square Off Over Oil Shale Issue

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As energy independence continues to dominate national politics, many are looking to Colorado to move forward with new oil shale development. It's an issue in the forefront of the U.S. Senate race here in the state.

Tucked away below the surface of the Rocky Mountains is what some national leaders believe is enough oil shale to produce 800 billion barrels of oil. With the price of oil continuing to skyrocket, more and more pressure is being placed on Colorado to do something about it.

"This is the equivalent of three times the barrel equivalency of what Saudi Arabia has," said Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne. "So you can see the enormous potential this holds for us."

But local leaders warn there was another time oil shale held huge potential for the country -- during the boom and bust of the 80s.

"Last time we just pushed into the development of oil shale and it was discovered too late that it was not commercially viable," said Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt.

Finding that balance between the country's energy needs and the commercial interests of Western Colorado has become a central issue as Democrat, and current U.S. Representative, Mark Udall and Republican Bob Schaffer battle to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Udall says he sees potential in oil shale, but it must be developed slowly over time.

"We have to understand the technology and the costs involved," said Udall. "We want to make sure the tax payers get the best return on that investment."

Udall helped pass a law last year that put a freeze on using federal money to finalize oil shale leasing, development, and regulations. He says we need more time to develop responsible technologies and make sure the oil shale can be commercially viable.

"Even the companies here investigating oil shale's potential, Shell and Chevron, say it's at least a decade away," said Udall.

Schaffer says he is for the responsible development of oil shale too. But he says the first step to get there is removing the freeze on federal funding and move forward with rules to develop oil shale.

In a statement his campaign sent to 11 News, he says "Every promising option should be on the table and folded into a responsible national energy strategy. We should hold out incentives for unconventional technologies such as oil shale."

Udall says rushing into development could put our way of life at risk and that it shouldn't happen at a faster pace than it needs to for the sake of short term impacts.

"The way we bring down gas prices today is we release oil from the strategic petroleum reserve and we crack down on speculators," said Udall.

But Schaffer says it's his policies which will bring gas prices down and help the U.S. move out what he calls an energy crisis that was self imposed by years of bad decision and indecision.

To learn more about Schaffer's and Udall's energy policies, click on the links below: