Testimony of Karen Shepherd, Former Member of Congress, on the Oil Shale Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement

Since I grew up in southern and eastern Utah, I have a very special feeling for the lands that oil shale and tar sands development in Utah would disturb.  These are not only beautiful places, they are also fragile and ancient places, home to some of the most extensive wildlife habitat left in the West.  The wildlife can be there because they live where the water runs predictably and because it does, the trees and plants still grow according to the cycles of nature.

Utah is a place where large islands of people live in a vast ocean of desert.  Even the mountains are dry mountains.  We think of that desert as inexhaustible but it is not.  It provides us with much of what we have come to depend on as our quality of life.  It is where we have our farms and our ranches.  It is where we hike and camp, and find dozens of other ways to play and enjoy the outdoors.  Without it we would not be happy.  What makes the desert inviting is water.  Without that water the Utah desert would be unlivable for any form of life.

Unfortunately, what makes oil shale and tars sands come out of the ground is water.

The BLM says that large scale development of oil shale could require up to 378,000 acre feet of water per year.  This is more than the Salt Lake Metro Area uses annually.   The April 26, 2011 Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Colorado River Basin will likely lose about 9 percent of its annual runoff by midcentury because of climate change.  That means that we should be doing everything and I mean EVERYTHING we can think of right now to conserve precious underground water reserves and to conserve our use of the Colorado River allocation.  We should not even be thinking of developing industries of any kind which are heavily dependent on water because these are industries that will hurt not enhance Utah’s future.

As a former Member of Congress, and Member of the House Natural Resources Committee, I learned a lot about the making of public policy while I was in office.  This is a critical decision coming at a critical time.   I commend you on this process and I urge you to think long and carefully about taking a step that once taken has the potential not only to destroy the health of some of the most vital desert landscape in the West forever but also to use up important water reserves for the people who live in the islands of this vast desert ocean.


Karen Shepherd
Former Member of Congress