Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is once again taking steps towards increasing our energy dependence. Just a few weeks after the Obama Administration unnecessarily slowed the process of leasing offshore areas to energy companies for drilling; Secretary Salazar is now rescinding leasing plans for oil-shale development on federal land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

The amount of oil available through oil shale is staggering. Some estimates have 1.2 trillion to 1.8 trillion barrels of oil available in the Green River Formation, an area which expands through most of Colorado and parts of Utah and Wyoming. According to the U.S. Department of Interior and Bureau of Land Management, a conservative estimate of 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil from oil shale in the Green River Formation is three times greater than the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, if full-scale production begins within five years, the U.S. could completely end its dependence on OPEC by 2020.

The oil shale industry experienced several hiccups in the 1970s and the industry has a ways to go before the resource becomes commercially viable, but its potential is enormous. The investment in technology and R&D is making the process cheaper, cleaner and safer for the environment. In effect, methods of harvesting oil shale force excess carbon back into the ground. Furthermore, nuclear energy is a clean source of power that can heat the shale to safely extract it from the ground.

This is actually the third time that Salazar has delayed access to energy in the United States. Previously, he cancelled onshore leases in Utah. This delay is not surprising but is particularly damaging to America’s ability to access its domestic energy sources. In July 2008, then Senator Salazar stated he would not support drilling offshore if gas prices were to reach $10 per gallon. Environmental activists and other critics of offshore drilling argue that drilling will not immediately bring down gas prices because the process takes too long, but they then deliberately cause or prolong needless delays.

The reality is access to our domestic energy supply is still needed and can help keep gas prices low in the future. Heritage Senior Policy Analyst Ben Lieberman points out that this is no time for complacency. The only reason for the sharp drop in oil and pump prices are a decline in demand due to the recession. Unless America begins to take action to increase supplies, prices will go right back up as soon as the economy turns around and demand picks up. Expanded offshore drilling would also create jobs, and unlike the taxpayer-funded jobs in the proposed stimulus package, the jobs created by a reinvigorated domestic energy industry would be well-paying, long-term, and funded entirely by the private sector.

In a poll conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of the American Petroleum Institute, 61 percent of Americans support access to oil and natural gas resources in federal waters on the Outer Continental Shelf and the Gulf of Mexico. Only 26 percent opposed. It should be noted that Harris conducted these interviews from February 13 to February 16, 2009, when gas prices were much lower than the $4-per-gallon prices we faced over the summer.

When gas prices were at $4 per gallon, over 1.4 million Americans demanded change by signing American Solution’s Drill Here Drill Now petition. Congress and President Bush responded by lifting the bans on offshore drilling. The Department of Interior is now seeking comment on its proposal to open up new areas for energy exploration. People are voicing their support for offshore drilling by going to and submitting a comment. You can too. Now is not the time to turn back.

Quick Hits:

  • Several conservative organizations are co-hosting a “Taxpayer Tea Party” today at noon in 22 cities across the country to join Rick Santelli’s call for support of American capitalism and free market commerce.
  • The Obama Administration has overturned an 18 year prohibition on media photos of returning war dead.  A survey of military families found that 84% opposed changing the policy.
  • Yesterday, the House delayed a vote on housing legislation that, among other items, would have allowed bankruptcy judges to slash interest rates and principle owed by debt-ridden homeowners, or a “cramdown”.
  • Yesterday, the Senate approved an amendment that would outlaw the “Fairness Doctrine”, and then approved an amendment that would allow the FCC to impose it piece by piece, and require radio ownership “diversity”.
  • Today’s Profile in Conservatism: Congressman Patrick McHenry