This was a vote on an amendment that would have exempted oil shale deposits from a Republican bill that would open vast new stretches of federally owned land to energy development.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) offered the amendment to the Republican bill. Among the land that would be opened to energy exploration were areas with significant deposits of oil shale. Most of these deposits are located in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah.
The Republican bill would have opened some of this federally owned land to energy companies interested in exploiting the resource. But Rep. Polis noted that no one yet knows how to use oil shale to profit in a commercial setting. To lease the land would not yield any tax revenue or jobs, but it would jeopardize the health of the environment and the livelihoods of farmers, ranchers, and others.
“There's no feasible, cost-effective commercial process for extracting oil from shale. We're talking about a potential technology, one that will have profound implications on water, profound implications on land use, and yes, profound implications on national energy policy, but it's a technology that doesn't exist,” Rep. Polis said.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) argued that the federal government should lease the land so that energy companies can experiment with ways to exploit the oil shale. The country of Estonia uses it to produce energy, he said, and U.S. companies may also find a way if allowed to explore on federal lands.
“The (U.S. Geological Survey) has estimated that there are 1.5 trillion – with a ‘T’ – barrels of oil equivalent in these oil shale formations. I think it's worth at least experimenting to see if it can be commercially extracted,” Rep. Lamborn said. “We have nothing to lose. This is a great win for the American consumer, especially should a commercial application and scalable venture be produced. It would create energy, jobs, and money for the Treasury.”
Rep. Polis’ amendment was defeated by a vote of 160-265. Voting “yea” were 158 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 2 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 235 Republicans and 30 Democrats. As a result, the House moved forward with Republican legislation that would open oil shale deposits in the western United States to energy exploration.