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Interior blocks plan for oil shale development

Thu., Feb. 26, 2009, midnight

WASHINGTON – The Interior Department on Wednesday blocked a Bush administration plan to open parts of the Mountain West for oil shale development, announcing that it would first study the water, power and land-use issues that complicate one of the nation’s most abundant but controversial untapped sources of power.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar coupled the decision to cancel some shale development leases and launch a second round of leases limited to research purposes with a rebuke of what he called ex-President George W. Bush’s “headlong rush” to begin development.

“Those who have fantasized that oil shale is a panacea for America’s energy needs have been living in a fantasy land,” he said.

The move marked the third time in a month that the Obama administration has frozen late-term Bush decisions that sought to spur domestic energy development over objections from environmentalists.

Glenn Vawter, executive director of the National Oil Shale Association, said Salazar’s shale decision wasn’t a surprise. But critics say the string of Interior announcements, which include canceling some oil leases near national parks and lengthening the public comments process for new offshore drilling, amount to reducing the effort to boost domestic oil production.

But Interior Department aides noted that even Bush officials, testifying before Congress last year, estimated oil shale wouldn’t be commercially viable until 2016 at earliest.

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