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Associated Press - Western Oil Shale Becomes Issue in La. Senate Race

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Location: Baton Rouge, LA

Associated Press - Western Oil Shale Becomes Issue in La. Senate Race

A supply of oil sealed in rock out West is becoming a flash-point in Louisiana's U.S. Senate race, in a bid to gain the attention of drivers feeling the pinch of gasoline prices.

Republican candidate John Kennedy said unlocking the energy source from oil shale — as much as 800 billion barrels of oil locked in underground rock in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah — could shrink the nation's dependence on foreign oil and could help ease prices at the pump.

Kennedy, the state treasurer, said his Democratic opponent, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, has helped block the oil shale development. Kennedy's campaign is highlighting the energy issue, hoping to undercut Landrieu's image — and campaign pitch — as a senator who has crossed party lines to push for more oil and gas drilling and exploration.

Earlier this year, Landrieu cast the deciding vote in committee against lifting a moratorium on commercial oil shale leases, a vote she said she made at the request of U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.

Congress must agree to remove the ban before oil shale development can begin. Kennedy said Landrieu's vote shows the senator is out of touch with people struggling to cope with $4-a-gallon gasoline prices.

"Sen. Landrieu voted against oil shale development as a favor to a friend in Washington. It's a case of putting party needs ahead of the state," Kennedy said Friday. "That's what people hate about Congress. It's just all double talk. They don't do anything."

In a statement, Landrieu said Salazar was a critical backer of a bill passed in 2006 that opened 8.3 million new acres in the Gulf of Mexico to oil and natural gas drilling and that will provide Louisiana with billions of dollars in royalty payments.

"Now, there is a debate over energy projects in his state, and Sen. Salazar asked me to vote to decide the matter on the Senate floor, rather than in a committee where his opinion could not be fully voiced," Landrieu said. "I agreed because I believe the oil shale question merits an open and thorough debate."

Oil shale is considered one of the largest untapped energy resources in the United States, covering 2 million acres of public property, but its development and extraction is significantly more expensive than other types of domestic oil production. Oil shale requires a superheating of the rock to access the oil and pump it to the surface.

Environmentalists worry about the effects of oil shale development on water and wildlife. Critics argue that the cost of accessing the energy source could dwarf the benefits and that any help would be years away and do nothing to quickly lower gas prices.

Kennedy said oil shale development is one piece of a larger shift in energy policy needed at the federal level. He supports the use of alternative energy sources, expansions of offshore oil drilling and oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"You can't just turn your back on a billion plus barrels of oil for politics," Kennedy said.

Landrieu didn't return an interview request Friday. A campaign spokesman said she was in meetings and not available. In campaign statements, the senator said she is pushing to increase domestic oil and gas production and to expand alternative energy sources, but she said that requires broad, bipartisan support.

"Every opportunity must be explored methodically and smartly, and the only thing left off the table should be the uninformed partisan posturing that has already stalled U.S. energy policy for far too long," Landrieu said.

The general election for the U.S. Senate seat is Nov. 4. Neither candidate will compete in the September party primary because they don't face opposition.

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