One Way To Get Serious About Saving Our Economy: Shale Oil

This chart by the Institute for Energy Research shows graphically how America’s shale oil reserves compare to other countries’ petroleum reserves. Click to enlarge:
Can shale oil be developed economically? At today’s prices, of course. A few years ago it was estimated that shale oil development would be competitive at around $40 a barrel. That figure may have risen a bit, but with world oil prices over $140 a barrel, shale oil development is a no-brainer.

Oil shale has promise but…

But the history of oil shale has been a story of grand plans and locked gates.

And its future is anything but certain. At best production is years away, while unpredictable oil markets, growing water demand, sizable electricity needs and climate change all pose potentially huge hurdles.

Oil shale is not a shale at all, geologists say, but a type of rock called marlstone containing kerogen, an organic material left over from ancient lakes. The trick is to convert the kerogen into usable oil and gas.

The process of converting the kerogen into something usable has advanced over the past 30 years, but it is still water and electricity intensive. Water rights are already an issue in the west, where much of the oil shale exists. And a new electrical grid and new electricity generation plants would be necessary… which brings up the issue of carbon emissions since the easiest and cheapest way to produce electricity is with coal.

All of which is a sizable investment in a product which will become an enormous white elephant if the price of oil comes down. That is what happened in the early 1980s, ending the previous attempts to develop US oil shale.

So, we just sit still and see our economy go down the toilet because of water rights and reluctance to put up some electrical grids? That’s a great solution–do nothing! That’s why we’re in this fix in the first place…Roanoker

That is what you get when you got a major segment of the congress that is so consumed by their hatred of Bush that they will obstruct anything he suggests.

I think you need to shout that loud and clear. It flies in the face of those who say, drilling for oil will not have any effect on the price of gas. At least no immediate effect, blah, blah, blah.

*“The former Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) estimated in 1980 that 1.8 trillion barrels appeared marginally attractive to production…”


That assessment was based on 1980’s oil prices and 1980’s technology. Actually, the oil shale formations in the Rockies hold about 8 trillion gallons of oil but much of it is considered not cost effective to recover. Oil companies are still working to develop more efficient processes to extract the oil, which, if they could come up with a good one, would pretty much make us totally energy self sufficient - probably for the next few centuries.

Yes, there are problems with oil shale recovery. There are also problems with not using that particular resource (not to mention all of the other resources). I am unimpressed with arguments that focus simply on the problems of doing something without addressing the issues involved in not doing it.


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