September 05, 2005
Shell Oil Shale Extraction Technology Economically Viable?

The development of an economically viable way to extract oil from oil shale would put a ceiling on oil prices and would extend the oil era by decades. It would also increase the odds of significant global warming. Well, in light of all that a variety of media outlets are reporting that Shell Oil thinks it can produce oil from oil shale at $30 per barrel using an in situ process where the shale is cooked without first mining it onto the surface.

They don't need subsidies; the process should be commercially feasible with world oil prices at $30 a barrel. The energy balance is favorable; under a conservative life-cycle analysis, it should yield 3.5 units of energy for every 1 unit used in production. The process recovers about 10 times as much oil as mining the rock and crushing and cooking it at the surface, and it's a more desirable grade. Reclamation is easier because the only thing that comes to the surface is the oil you want.

And we've hardly gotten to the really ingenious part yet. While the rock is cooking, at about 650 or 750 degrees Fahrenheit, how do you keep the hydrocarbons from contaminating ground water? Why, you build an ice wall around the whole thing. As O'Connor said, it's counterintuitive.

Shell is just now moving onto the next stage to decide by 2010 whether their process is commercially feasible.

Shell has received approval from Rio Blanco County, state and federal officials to conduct a $50 million, two- to four-year study of a groundwater freezing process, said Jill Davis.

“We’re still looking to decide if we’ll move on to commercial production by the end of the decade,” she said. “It’s been promising, so we want to take it to the next level with an environmental test of our ‘freeze wall’ process.”

Refrigerants, such as ammonia dioxide, are circulated through underground pipes to freeze the groundwater and earth to keep groundwater out of an oil-shale formation.

“We’ve tested the process in a circular pattern and this will be a football field-shaped rectangle in an area more like where commercial production could happen,” she said.

Some estimates for the amount of oil in shale range as high as 1 trillion to 1.8 trillion barrels. Assume that 1 trillion barrels could be extracted. The United States currently uses about 20.5 million barrels per day which is about a quarter of current world oil demand. World oil demand is projected to rise to 119 million barrels per day by 2025 or about a 50% increase. Suppose we take that 119 million barrel figure and round it off to 120 million barrels. Also let us assume that oil shale could yield 1 trillion barrels of oil. That oil shale would satisfy total world oil demand by this equation: 1,000,000 million barrels/(365 days per year times 120 million barrels per day) which equals only 22 years at the projected year 2025 consumption rate. Even oil shale can delay the end of the oil era by a couple of decades. Still, we could use those decades to develop technologies to lower the cost of nuclear and photovoltaic solar power.

A recent RAND corporation report with lead author James Bartis argues the US government should add oil shale to its energy research portfolio.

Since the future prospects for oil shale remain uncertain, the RAND report recommends that the federal government refrain from major investments in oil shale development until the private sector is prepared to commit its technical, management and financial resources. However, the report recommends a few low-cost efforts that can begin in the near future to move oil shale development forward.

The report by the RAND Environment, Energy and Economic Development program says that between 500 billion and 1.1 trillion barrels of oil are technically recoverable from high-grade oil shale deposits located in the Green River geological formation, covering parts of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

The mid-point of the RAND estimate – 800 billion barrels – is three times the size of Saudi Arabia's oil reserves. This is enough oil to meet 25 percent of America's current oil demand for the next 400 years.

The benefits of a competitive oil shale industry are substantial. For an output of 3 million barrels per day, the study estimates direct economic benefits of about $20 billion per year. Federal, state and local governments would receive about half of this amount in the form of lease payments, royalties and taxes.

Production at 3 million barrels per day also could likely cause oil prices to fall by 3 to 5 percent, saving American oil consumers roughly $15 billion to $20 billion annually, according to the report. A multimillion-barrel per day oil shale industry could also create several hundred thousand jobs in the United States.

The in situ process may avoid many of the environmental problems that arise from oil shale mining.

Another technical development that has been taking place involves heating the oil shale while it is still in the ground – a process called in-situ conversion. Mining is not required. Instead, electric heating elements are placed in bore holes, slowly heating the shale oil deposit. The released liquids are gathered in wells specifically designed for that purpose.

In contrast to surface mining, in-situ conversion does not permanently modify land surface topography and may be significantly less damaging to the environment. Small field tests conducted by Shell Oil involving an in-situ approach appear promising. While larger scale tests are needed, Shell anticipates that this method may be competitive with crude oil priced below $30 per barrel. RAND has not developed an independent estimate of the price level needed to make in-situ conversion competitive.

On the environmental side, adverse land and ecological impacts will accompany oil shale development no matter which approach is used. Oil shale production will also result in airborne and greenhouse gas emissions that could severely limit oil production levels.

Colorado has the largest oil shale deposits and some deposits have more oil per ton of rock.

Steve Wiig, geologist for the Rock Springs BLM office, said Wyoming oil shale, on average, would produce 15 to 30 gallons of oil per ton of oil shale rock. He said the Colorado and Utah deposits could produce 30 to 40 gallons, with some sites capable of producing 60 gallons of oil per ton of oil shale.

Another company says it can produce oil from shale even more cheaply using a more conventional approach.

For example, one of the star witnesses of Gibbons' hearings was Jack Savage, president of Utah-based Oil-Tech Inc. He said the company is ready to start cooking oil out of shale with a retort it has built near Vernal, Utah.

"We have been working on this for 15 years," Savage said. "Now we're ready to go."

Savage, once president of companies that manufactured golf bags and other sporting goods, said he can turn shale into oil for $10 to $22 a barrel, depending on market conditions. Savage pushed for an accelerated federal leasing program, but he's already leased 38,000 acres of state land in Utah and says he's working on a research-and-development bid to continue work on his project.

The biggest problem with mining oil shale comes as a result of heating oil shale rock. The rock expands in size and then can't just get put back where it was excavated.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 September 05 07:19 PM  Energy Fossil Fuels


Comments
Invisible Scientist said at September 5, 2005 7:37 PM:

Add to the Shale Oil, the already demonstrated possibility of using the coal liquification process the South African Apartheid regime had used in order to survive the international oil embargo against that government. It turns out that it is already economically feasible to convert regular coal into diesel fuel even below the current prices. And the United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal: there is enough coal for several centuries in the US.

Here is a link:
http://www.billingsgazette.com/index.php?id=1&display=rednews/2005/08/02/build/state/25-coal-fuel.inc

me said at September 5, 2005 8:19 PM:

Remember that while the technology is perhaps technically feasable, its at least as far off as solar In terms of adoption. It will be another 5 years for shell to even decided if it is worth it. Also I am rather skeptical of the claim of oil being 50% recoverable considering that most liquid oil isn't that good. Furthermore, the stuff made from oil shale is going to be a low grade crude, which would need a considerable amount of refining to be used as anything other than heating oil.

Insivisible Scientist said at September 5, 2005 8:29 PM:

Remember that Oil Companies have so much clout in the society and government, that they will pull enough strings to make very clumsy and labor intensive (read profitable to them) and long term infrastructures happen. If shale oil is crude and hence requires refining, this will be great for them, since they will also build refineries. At this rate, the green house effect will become frimly established by 2020,, and by 225, the future hurricanes will probably have 400 mph winds, meaning that if you want to retire, Florida may not be a good place unless your retirement house is an underground bunker that is water-proof, with oxygen tanks and enough food for many years.

Engineer-Poet said at September 5, 2005 8:29 PM:

If its gel point is low enough and it has a decent cetane rating, I'll take it!  Even $60/bbl at the pump is half of what I'm paying.

David Govett said at September 6, 2005 12:15 AM:

Won't substitute for oil but it might force down prices. SA, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, etc., can make money selling at $20 per barrel, so keep trying.

Philip Sargent said at September 6, 2005 2:24 AM:

Presumably that "ammonia dioxide" coolant should really be "liquid ammonia or carbon dioxide" ?

That ratio of energy-out to energy-in worries me: presumably the "energy in" is actually fuel being burned in air; so the carbon dioxide loading on the atmosphere from this shale oil should include the CO2 emitted during its production.

So global CO2 disposal costs will add quite a bit to the end-price of this oil.

bigelow said at September 6, 2005 12:14 PM:

Anyone notice estimates for how many barrels a month Shell could produce of shale oil? Watching Oilsands up north shows ramping up production to be a big problem. A similar bottleneck here?

bigelow

gmoke said at September 6, 2005 12:16 PM:

How many gallons of water per gallon of oil?

Solar is civil defense

Joseph said at September 6, 2005 6:07 PM:

If it becomes more widely discussed it should stiffle the oil speculations bandits a bit. I've been wondering when someone would mention the oil shale deposits again. I think the last time they hit the news was in 84' ? More buffer time. Few bother to consider that time is needed. Most Americans would accept an alternative mobility power source if prices were somewhat comparable. However you cut it though it will require time. You could have someone announce the developement of a "Mr. Fusion" tomorrow yet with all the developement time, reviews, plant designs, plant building etc. etc (and let's not forget the foredoomed obligatory enviromental challenge from one of the Gia worshipping sects) it would still be a decade before it could be in widespread use. Despite all the optimism fuel cells are still not quite there, neither is wind, solar, wave or any of the rest. I still remember when All Bore made his great announcement in 95' (?) that fuel cells were almost here. Okay I'm still waiting a decade later.

So yes, Use the oil shale resources. There's a lot of promising tech on the horizon and more time means hopefully wiser selection. I'm willing to bare up under the burden of the proable .0043 C increase in global temperature average over the next couple of decades due to expanding use of carbon based fuels.

PacRim Jim said at September 6, 2005 9:20 PM:

Suggestion for solving the global warming problem. Since the global temperature is expected to increase 0.0043 degrees Celsius over the next couple of decades, simply use whole numbers. That is, round temperatures so any increase will be truncated. Problem solved. Fill 'er up.

AA2 said at September 7, 2005 2:21 PM:

It seems peak oil is really the peak of light sweet crude oil. The next oil such as shale oil, coal liquification such as the nazis and the south africans used and still use, tar sands, deep sea oil, are just more costly. I would expect these numbers to be low estimates, and when they come online to be more like 40-50 dollars a barrel. But still say we look at oil staying at over 50 dollars a barrell for a while it really puts pressure on ways to use oil more efficiently and for alternatives.

I remember reading about peak oil in the late 90's and thinking if the prices do rise substantially and stay high then the market will come in with alternatives. Trying to find alternatives when you already have a super cheap, super dense source of energy like the 20 dollar a barrel oil during the late 90's just isn't going to happen. I think we are seeing now serious developments now that oil is staying high, like the athabasca tar sands in Alberta.

Sione Vatu said at September 7, 2005 5:01 PM:

Things get cheaper over time. Technology has a way of causing price to fall. Govt. is the main cause of price rises. Think on that and consider what you govt. is doing with your life's wealth.

Fifty years ago when pundits were already predicting the "end of oil" (actually they've been saying that since Rockefeller's day), who'd have believed the North sea oil could be exploited. They'd have said it was far too expensive and could never be affordable. Yet deep sea oil fields are an economical (read cheap) source of energy today. Humans have a way of developing means of getting what they want. In this case a whole heap of clever technologies have been applied to the problem of getting "oil from the sea." No doubt that should enough clever people want to get the oil out of the shale, tar sands, peat or coal they will accomplish it. And it will end up being economical as well. Fancy that!

As for high oil prices; that's a temporary spike. Law of supply and demand applies. We can charge whatever the consumer will pay. However things change, markets alter, context is modified, competitors and alternatives mobilise. So I'm not going to worry. I've got the supercharged V-8 and I'm off to burn rubber in a car park. Its good cheap fun!

gmoke said at September 8, 2005 10:35 AM:

I guess the law of supply and demand means that if we demand something loudly and long enough the supply will just appear.

Peak oil doesn't mean that there ain't no more. Just that we've used up half and the second half is going to become more and more expensive and difficult to pump out. There's another law that covers that, I think they call it the law of diminishing returns. There are other energy sources, shale oil being one of them, but none of them are as cheap and easy as good old petroleum. Energy is not really a problem. Imagination, however, is. People who think that life is guaranteed to continue as it always has without any deviations from the norm, that no adjustments to changing realities need to be made, that what was good enough for old John D. Rockefeller is good enough for us tend to lack imagination and foresight.

It is always prudent to plan for the worst and hope for the best. It is stupid to think that nothing will change. I thought Heraclitus taught us that change is the only constant.

Rob said at September 8, 2005 1:06 PM:

Maybe the expanded spent shale could be used as building material in New Orleans.

Joseph said at September 8, 2005 2:21 PM:

As an example to my raving earlier a couple of potential advances have been announced. Now I would prefer an "all electric" system but whatever works would be fine especially since battery energy densities seem plateaud at the moment. Quantum Spheres Inc. announced that they have developed a nickel based nano material with 90% of the effeciency of platinum in anode and cathode applications (this would displace several thousands of dollars cost associated with fuel cells). A Danish group "DTU" has announced a pelletized system of ammonia salts for hydrogen storage with densities around 9% or so by weight (ammonia has always been an excellent hydrogen carrier, the handling of it in everyday use as a pure liquid has been the greatest drawback). Of course these items may not pan out but I mention them as examples of the ongoing research in fuel cell systems.

Despite whatever method people may adhere to in the formation of hydrocarbons I think a good percentage of people are aware that demand will outstrip production ability in the future. It's just as well that technology has allowed a longer run on hydrocarbon production since these problems have not been easy to solve. Oil shale usage will simply add more buffer time for a decent transition. Also please consider that while probably hydrogen will be derived from water etc. in the future the first five to ten years most will be cracked from hydrocarbons till those future facilities can be built.

Steve said at September 8, 2005 5:40 PM:

Quit the bull on "global warming" and increased storms. Volcanoes spew out more CO2 than man ever could. How many SUVs would be needed to duplicate Mt Saint Helens?

During the 90s, hurricane activity was down. Was no there no talk of global warming then?

When Red Commies fell, they turned Green, as in the Enviornmental movement. Same effect: bad-mouth freedom and its corresponding capitalism.

There's now a new process to extract oil from shale, and what do we hear? Increased oil use and CO2 gas from naysayers to pooh-pooh the idea.

Go for it! The problem of foreign energy dependence needs to be solved.

Malcolm said at September 9, 2005 6:39 AM:

Steve:
Possibly the worst thing about the exaggerated claims of global warming are arguments like yours.

Concentrating on global warming allows everyone to forget about plain old pollution. Smog, CO, mercury, acid rain,, lead etc.

People have to live in cities. Electric cars will at least move the pollution out of cities, and at best produce the energy in centralized locations with much stricter emmissions controls.

Randall Parker said at September 9, 2005 10:12 AM:

Malcolm,

I agree on all points. First, yes, the exaggerations of the threat allow some to totally dismiss the phenomenon. I figure doubling the CO2 in the atmosphere will do something. How could it not? CO2 has different effects on heat and sunlight than N2 and O2. So a change of some sort must result. We should at least be concerned.

Steve is right that hurricane activity has had its downs. It has a cycle of about 30 to 40 years down and 30 to 40 years up and we are headed into the "up" phase. Most of what we are seeing now with increased hurricane activity is due to the natural cycle. That cycle means we are going to see hundreds of billions and perhaps trillions of dollars of damage in the "up" phase.

I also agree with Malcolm that we should care a lot more about the pollution down at ground level. Coal burning electric plants should not be allow to belch so much mercury and other pollutants into the air.

Also, it is far easier to reduce emissions from big generator plants than from cars. This is one reason I've argued repeatedly for more battery research.

I agree with Steve that the problem of foreign energy dependence needs to be solved. But shale oil would solve the problem only for a couple of decades. I'd like to see an acceleration of R&D on nuclear and solar in order to solve the problem permanently.

gmoke said at September 9, 2005 11:44 AM:

"When Red Commies fell, they turned Green, as in the Enviornmental movement. Same effect: bad-mouth freedom and its corresponding capitalism."

The first time I saw that meme was in the movie "Z" which was about the assassination of a Greek politican and the military coup there in the late 60s (or was it early 70s). One of the colonels is lecturing a group of police and military. He has a watermelon on the table and inveighs against the environmentals who say they are green just like the watermelon. Then he takes a big knife, maybe a machete, and cuts the melon open, saying that inside they are still RED!!!!

If memory serves, Colonel D'Aubisson (spelling) in El Salvador, reputedly one of the guys who led troops and irregulars that liked to scoop eyeballs out of living prisoners (accused Commies of course) with soup spoons, also used this image.

It's a good image but inflammatory and false and anybody who uses it should be aware of the company they, rhetorically, keep.

aa2 said at September 9, 2005 12:40 PM:

Most greens I have seen are pretty hardcore communists. But interestingly they are a lot different then the Soviet communists as they aren't pro-industrialization and development. Just other aspects such as egalitarianism and state control. Maybe a better term is collectivists, like Mao Zedong. Moving people out of cities into farming collectives.

There are definately a growing number of limited government type environmentalists like myself, Randall Parker and others that I read on this blog. Who are saying things like get rid of the regulations stopping nuclear power. And one of my beliefs is let private groups and even individuals purchase public land. Like in the late 1800's when America's great public parks were formed, by private groups. Which later were taken over by the government.

Philip Sargent said at September 9, 2005 2:13 PM:

Since many of the the comments here seem to be from the USA, perhaps I can add something from W. Europe.

Generally, through the good work of public outcry and effective legislation, we don't have significant problems with "Smog, CO, mercury, acid rain" any more. I remember the last London smog in (I think) 1962. [There was a stagnant air period in 1991 but not enough to notice except in careful examination of the statistics]. Now, they are not totally solved of course, but the last time I remember seeing much news / journalism interest in them was sometime in the 80s.

Still a problem where nations are too poor to fix the issue of course.

That these issues are still problems in the USA is something that perplexes the rest of the developed world.

Bob Badour said at September 9, 2005 7:02 PM:

Philip,

I was in Edinburgh in the late seventies. I found the air quality there worse than Manhattan and a lot worse than the smoggiest day in Southern Ontario today, where smog is actually a growing problem. I was fortunate both times I was in Los Angeles. The winds were not the prevailing winds off the ocean that trap the air and exhausts in the valley so the air was exceptionally clear (if a bit cool.)

I suspect acid rain relates more to the amount and type of coal burned than anything. If I am not mistaken, British coal has less sulphur to begin with. And does Britain even have any coal left?

Mercury in the Great Lakes is largely the result of forestry, and ironically much of the damage was done over a century ago when Britain ran the logging industry in Canada. Back when 1'x1'x25' timbers could not have more than one knot per side the size of a quarter for loading on the ships to England and much otherwise useful timber was left to rot or was burned. As a result, a lot of our major rivers have large amounts of rotting bark and logs in them.

Of course, the Zebra Mussels introduced from Europe have sequestered a lot of the pollutants in the Great Lakes, and I am sure that includes much of the mercury.

Is it possible the English don't call it a smog until people start hacking up lungs and skin rashes develop? If so, that could explain what perplexes you, because over here it's called a smog much sooner. One can see it as a brownish haze affecting visibility over very long distances, but I have never experienced any respiratory problems from it, for instance.

I don't suppose you know of a source of actual numbers for objective comparison, do you?

Philip Sargent said at September 10, 2005 7:52 AM:

Late seventies.
Yes. That's about right: that's over a quarter of a century ago.

The point I am making it that none of that list of air pollutants is "an issue" in the sense that it gets any coverage in media, that voters or politicians are concerned about it: they are simply irrelevant to the discussions of energy sources and uses here.

The issue of traffic, principally congestion, but also traffic fumes, is still a definite issue however. But traffic fumes too are generally considered to be "well in hand" because of fuel purity changes and transition to LPG for city taxis etc., and probably most important, improvements to engine design; and not too many people think that it is a big problem now.

The past few years have seen an increase in the use of "City Diesel" which is ultra low-sulphur. On introduction in 1995 it cost 2p/litre more than ordinary diesel and was a commercial success. I think a recent EU directive means that all fuel will have to meet this kind of purity soon if not already.

Photochemical smog (brown haze) requires a lot of sunshine and so has always been rare in the UK, but a big problem in Athens I think. London smog was largely due to domestic use of native coal and was cured by the imposition of the use of domestic "smokeless" fuel (coked coal). A "pea souper" London smog was clearly greenish-yellow in colour, and visibility was about 2 - 4 metres: you couldn't see the other side of the street. So we are talking about quite different things here.

The UK's largest power station (Drax, 4GW: www.draxpower.com/) is coal-burning and while quite a bit is locally mined, Australian strip-mined coal is much cheaper. Regulation mean that there is a strict limit on emissions, so even using low-sulphur coal, the flue gas still needs to be desulpherised )FSD).

I thought the reference to mercury in the post above was to air pollution, not water pollution. Anyway, with effective FSD it gets cleaned up as a side effect.

In 2008, the EU Large Combustion Plant Directive comes into force, and even stricter limits will be applied. This will cause quite a few coal plants in Europe to shut down as they cannot be economically fitted with adequate equipment. In the UK, these are principally very old plants used for peaking loads (i.e. turned on for a small part of the day, only at some times of the year) and so will have minimal effect on national fuel usage.

Why there has been such success in implementing these pollution reduction measures, continent-wide, over such a sustained period of decades, I don't know; possibly because of the technocratic nature of the Commission and the preponderance of social democratic governments in the member states?

Any discussion of smog, NOX, mercury, acid rain etc. does not "connect" with public sentiment here. That's just "so seventies".

So, to get back to the issue of oil shale, it will just be assumed that adequate measures will be put in place to control pollutants to the levels we are used to controlling them to. History shows that W.Europe is generally happy to pay a bit more for energy to ensure that this is the case. Thus, for sale of shale oil in Europe, the costs of emissions to local (European) standards needs to be taken into account when computing the cost. And that goes for CO2 too.


Philip

References:
Drax envirnmental plans, inc. biomass.

Scottish Power environmental impact report

Large Combustion Plant Directive: "Emissions from the UK contribute to pollution problems in other Member States, while Germany, Netherlands, France, Ireland and Belgium are the principal non-domestic contributors to sulphur and nitrogen deposition in the UK. A Europe-wide approach to reducing these pollutants and their impacts is therefore required" .

UK national emissions reduction plan with data on thermal energy use and all emissions per power plant 1996-2001.

DoE Hg/coal website.

2p is 0.02*1.84 $
1 litre is 1/3.785 US gallon
2p/litre = 7 cents/USgallon

Diesel price yesterday in UK was 93.3 p/litre tm i.e. 6.78 $/USgallon

Philip Sargent said at September 10, 2005 8:17 AM:

Eliminating smog from London hasn't exactly been speedy.

The first law banning the burning of bituminous "sea coal" in London was in 1272 (King Edward I). Anyone caught burning or selling the stuff was to be tortured or executed. The first offender caught was summarily put to death.

We hope that it generally doesn't take 725 years for most-antipollution measures to become effective.

Philip

Reference USA EPA history pages.

Randall Parker said at September 10, 2005 10:06 AM:

Philip,

A few points:

1) The United States was the first country to greatly restrict car emissions.

2) The United States was the first country to ban lead in gasoline. Some Euro countries did not do so till about 20 years later. Not sure when Britain did it.

3) The US has a number of local and regional environmental regulations that make it hard to generalize about the whole country. Here in southern California a number of car models available in the rest of the country are not available here. A lot of New England states have adopted California vehicle emissions standards. California leads the way on car emissions and has since the 60s if not earlier.

4) The US has tougher emissions controls on diesel in cars than Europe. California and several other states have diesel emissions controls so stiff that few if any diesel cars are available here. For example, you can buy diesel VWs in most states but not here.

5) We have some coal burning plants with SOx scrubbers or NOx scrubbers or both. SOx scrubbers alone do not remove all mercury. The combination of both types of scrubbers removes more mercury. On the other hand we have other coal burners (tending to be older plants that were grandfathered in on clean air legislation) that do not have scrubbers as of yet and it is a sore point with me that both Clinton and Bush Jr were not more aggressive on this.

6) But what I really want to see is what Bob asked for: Objective comparisons of air quality in various cities in Europe and the United States at the same times of the year and averages over each year. With all due respect I do not trust your guesses. I do not trust my guesses either.

Philip Sargent said at September 10, 2005 1:35 PM:

I am trying to address the issue of pricing oil from shale - which means that costs of containing pollutants should be included.

For shale oil, the cost of burning oil as part of its production (including pollution therefrom), as well as its end use, seems to me significant and not included in the analyses I have seen so far.

In Europe, I am talking about perceptions; not industrial facts.

I am speculating as to why those perceptions exist - but they do certainly exist. Perhaps pundits on this forum can provide alternative explanations for the perception in W.Europe that air pollution from electricity production is a largely-solved problem except for CO2 ?

I am trying to say that the issue of non-CO2 pollutants are not anything that the media or the public take any notice of in W.Europe. I am not saying that it is an entirely solved problem, but I am saying that any discussion of SOx or NOx - rightly or wrongly - has little impact on argument or public perception; and that the USA pundits need to be aware of that when presenting their case when it is published world-wide.

If you want the figures on allowed pollutants from fossil-fuel electricity production in the UK, they are in the references I gave in a previous post. I have no idea what they are in the USA or in individual states of the USA. I do know that the USA SOx cap-and-trade system is widely considered to be a great success; but I don't know if the reduction level set in that system is low enough to remove the issue from public perception.

I am interested to know whether the discrepancy in attitude to these air pollutants is because the problem really has been largely solved here (and for traffic, it would be largely due to adopting California traffic emission rules of course), or whether public perception here is wildly out of whack with reality, or whether weather conditions mean that the same levels have very different effects?

In Pozzuoli, a suburb of Naples that is largely within a caldera of a Yellowstone-type volcano, SOx from power plants is completely ignored for quite a different reason; but I think we can discount that explanation for most of Europe.

Philip

Randall Parker said at September 10, 2005 2:05 PM:

Philip,

I think it safe to say that the overwhelming majority of the public in all countries is pretty ignorant on the scientific and technical details about pollution in their own countries. If they can't see it and can't feel it most do not worry about it. So I expect pollution in forms that are hard to see or feel to be higher than one would want based on health considerations. I expect this to be the case in most countries.

There are at least two reasons why ignorance exists on most issues of public policy:

1) People do not individually get much of an economic return from self-education on policy issues.

2) About half the population in Western countries have IQs below 100. Most people can't even follow scientific and technical discussions. My own readership (and yours) comes from the smarter segments of society.

Here are some reasons why we should expect differences in pollution levels between the US and Europe as a result of differences in public concern:

1) Higher per capita income countries place greater emphasis on pollution reduction because as more basic needs are met more concern shifts toward lower priority needs. So pollution gradually rises as a priority as incomes rise. Well, the US has a higher per capita income than most Euro countries. So one would expect the environmental movement to have made inroads here first and indeed it did.

2) Energy usage is also correlated strongly with income (especially strongly with Purchasing Power Parity per capita income and I can send you something on that if you want). But more fossil fuel energy usage translates into more pollution. So this works against the higher PPP per capita income US having lower levels of pollution. Therefore various types of pollution per amount of fossil fuel energy expended becomes an interesting set of numbers to calculate per country or region.

3) More of America than Europe is low population density rural. Rural people can produce more pollution per person with less pollution exposure per person. Rural voters therefore do not place as high a priority on pollution as urban voters. So one would expect less political pressure to cut down on pollution in rural areas. Anecdotally, higher population density New England governments (especially NY State attorney general Eliot Spitzer) have gone after coal burner electric utilities with law suits and the Bush Administration, elected by states with lower population densities, have tried to block this.

As for CO2 versus non-CO2 pollutants: Americans are not as worried about global warming as Europeans and therefore probably have more attention left over to focus on non-CO2 pollutants. My guess is that CO2 has effectively competed with other pollutants as a focus of concern. Attention is limited. Topics compete with each other for attention.

Also, note that France has less to worry about for electric generation pollution because it is so heavily nuclear. I think 70% of France's electricity is nuclear, right?

Philip Sargent said at September 10, 2005 5:34 PM:

The rural issue - your number 3 - I think you have it. That sounds very solid and believable both politically and economically.

The mind-share issue I am sure is true too - but the argument cuts both ways: which comes first? An obsession with CO2 or satisfaction with air pollution control?

One might expect places with severe weather to be more aware of CO2 issues than those more fortunate; but the correlation appears to be in the opposite direction. There is a better correlation with the ratio of coastline to landmass; but I don't believe people think that way and it is probably a coincidence.

I have heard it said* that the carbon intensity of an economy gets worse as it gets out of povery as it starts to use oil effectively, but that it then starts to to get better and richer countries (by GDP/head) then getter better carbon intensity as they get richer (as electrification proceeds). I think you hit bottom about the level that Russia was in 1989. So your point (2) is only right for the poorer nations. However that metric is severely distorted by taxes so is probably not strictly comparable except between countries with similar approach to energy taxes.

Philip

*Prof. Fells, seminar 18th May, Cambridge UK.

Frederic Christie said at September 13, 2005 12:39 AM:

Re: The moron who cited volcanoes: Yes, volcanoes spew C02, but as you so obliquely ignore, volcanoes are NET COOLANTS - that is, their effect has always been to cool the environment. We have seen 5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit gains IN ONE CENTURY, about as much as since the last Ice Age.

To argue that an economic system that makes private control of the means of production alongside literally totalitarian/fascist corporations and what the Enlightenment called "wage slavery" is "freedom" is to beg some very serious questions, I'm afraid.

Bob Badour said at September 13, 2005 6:05 AM:

Frederic,

You don't think regular people like you and me should own the means of production? Who should receive the benefit of our wealth then?

In what sense are corporations fascist? Internally, as I have seen Randall point out elsewhere recently, they are command economies. Is that what you mean? Internally, I am a command economy too.

You did not offer any alternatives. What alternative would you prefer?

Joseph said at September 13, 2005 10:40 AM:

9 degree temperature increase...amazing. This is much akin to a british tabloid headline recently which expoused the rapid recession of Greenland's icecap. Land not seen for millions of years being exposed was touted. Then they pointed out the formerly covered Viking settlement that was beginning to be exposed as proof.

Yes volcanoes do cause global cooling for several years until the particulates settle out. The CO and CH based compounds do not settle out that rapidly though so over time volcanic activity definetly increases greenhouse effects. I'd really recommend to some that they study the geological data being compiled from the the cambrian onward to give themselves some prospective. This is an evolving, not static planet. Humanity may contribute to some processes but it's hardly the driving force even now. The best we can currently do is try not to cause harm and to be prepared to adapt to changes that will occure regardless of our existence.

First the doom sayers were forcasting iceworld in the 70's. In the 90's it was water world. Perhaps next decade it will be desert world. I'm holding out for Disney world though...

jcrack said at September 20, 2005 6:57 PM:

If youall haven't gotten off track on the comparative pollution of Edinburgh and New York, I have some questions about the new shale technology. One is sulfur. Is shale intrinsically low in the stuff, so we don't have to figure out where to put it? Russian petroleum is full of it, which is why it costs now about $15 less per bbl than gulf crude. There are mountains of sulfur cake accumulating in central asia and Canada. There is only so much sulfuric acid the world will buy as byproduct. What about heat from nuclear pellets immersed in CO2 to heat the shale? The idea is floated for the Athabasca tar sand project so you don't have to burn petroleum to produce more of it. That could mean a net emission reduction per deliverable energy of fuel oil. And reinjection of CO2 to control the refrigeration of the shale beds (not to mention to increase the gas pressure of the extraction, since supercritical pressure is frequently the key to making organic compounds liquid enough to flow and separate by molecular weight.) We could bury decades worth produced at the refinery level alone. PS I cannot believe that Nazi and South African Sasol schemes ever produced anything like a clean fuel. The Japs actually resorted to putting pine needle oil into cars, which promptly destroyed the engines.

Answers?

Randall Parker said at September 20, 2005 7:33 PM:

jcrack,

I like the idea of using uranium as a heat source to heat the oil sand tar and the shale. But wouldn't radioactivity be a problem? The uranium would need to be encased in lead or something and yet still let the heat diffuse.

I also think that building a nuclear plant on top of an oil shale field might provide a constructive way to use the waste heat from running a nuclear reactor. Imagine insulated piping that brings hot waste water to the oil shale fields to go down into the fields to heat it.

We need to find a constructive use for excess sulfur.

Nagaraja Rao said at September 23, 2005 8:19 PM:

Oil shale in western US produces syncrude with virtually no sulfur but 4% Nitrogen and 11.5% hydrogen and 36API, which is certainly not light oil but far better than heavy oil from Venezuela and some medium grade oils. Syncrudes from tar sands in Canada and Estonian oil shale have significant Sulfur. The US resource is so huge, if the technology becomes economical, say less than $30/bbl, you have over over 600 Billion barrels to exploit (more than twice the oil reserves in the middle east). Today, Canadian tar sands industry produces about 1 million barrel per day (at

Randall Parker said at September 23, 2005 9:28 PM:

Nagaraja,

Certainly if the oil shale extraction method works out the United States will become a net oil exporter. Imagine that. It would take a few hundred billion dollars per year off the US trade deficit.

Phil Price said at September 30, 2005 12:19 AM:

Those earlier comments about communists turning green: The only political organizations allowed in the former Soviet Republic were ecological organizations and associated meetings. People joined ecologic orgs to talk about issues of Soviet politics and wildlife as well. It was a loophole exploited by many... I spent month's there in the late 80's and heard of the power of the ecologic orgs and the influence in the downfall of communism. Go figure.

C. F. Pittenger said at October 8, 2005 4:58 AM:

I suspect none of you folks live within 500 miles of the oil shale afore mentioned. Maybe not even a thousand. Having grown up in Rifle, Colo, with my dad going to work at Anvil Points for many years while it was the still the Naval Oil Shale preserve back in the sixties and seventies, and having lived in western Colorado for my entire life,and built homes during the 80 oil shale boom, and suffered the 82 dropout, I have a slightly different perspective on these events.

The vast landscape that extends from Rifle west into Utah and north into Wyoming is or was incredibly beautiful and very rugid. The current assault on it from the Natural Gas industry defies the mind. Literally hundreds of thousands of holes are being drilled and the bed rock fractured to obtain the natural gas deposits in the same area as above. What was once pristine now looks like a patchwork quilt with wells literally only a few hundred yards apart.

The same plateau that you are debating is already at the heart of extremely heated discussions at every level of government here. How to portect the environmnet in the wake of this economic assault. The ground water is already one of the contentious issues south of the Colorado River where domestic wells have been contaminated. The concept that ground water is going to be frozen to protect it from the insitu process seems a pathetically small answer to an issue that is huge. What are we doing to the Earth to extend our pretentiously gluttonous and short sighted lifestyle?

It is true. I own vehicles that require petroleum products, and I have a home heated by natural gas. I am as much a customer of this paradigm as anyone else. However I also am the owner of of a Photovoltaic Solar Company. One of my observations about humanity is We vote with our feet and our dollars. As long as this civilization continues to think as the above are thinking, and we do not allocate our resources to develop Renewable Energy sources in quantity, we will suffer the consequences.

C. F. Pittenger
Simplicitysolar@bresnan.net

John G. said at October 11, 2005 3:42 PM:

Most people misinterpret what peak oil really implies. It does not imply that we are running out of oil, or will soon run out, rather it states that we will not be able to extract and refine the oil fast enough to keep up with world demands. Not to mention that as we exhaust all of our easily obtainable oil supplies, oil will get harder and harder to extract.

The Rand Corporation stated the oil shale will only be able to provide 1/4 of the oil for 400 years, did many people miss that they said 1/4? This implies we will only able to supply 100% of our oil needs for about 100yrs. Now I don't know if they took economic growth into account, but when our economy grows so does our rate of consumption of oil, so this might shorten the time that we can rely on that oil shale. Not to mention that with both India and China rapidly modernizing, their rate of oil consumption may easily exceed our own, and international tensions may mount.

Relying on future technological advances to cheapen oil prices is not a rational way to plan, since the planet earth is of finite size and will only contain a finite amount of oil supplies. By the laws of thermodynamics it takes more energy to extract and refine one barrel of oil than one can extract from that barrel of oil, so there is a limit to the technological advances in oil production. The type of technological advances we should look into are those of alternative energy, we still have about 100yrs to develop new technologies to replace oil. We should sponsor research into REALISTIC and CHEAP alternatives to oil and look for ways to become more fuel efficient all the while growing our economy.

We need to look for alternatives, or a combination of alternatives to one day replace oil. Oil is a non renewable resource and there is only a finite amount inside the earth, we should start researching alternatives to oil NOW. Oil will be difficult to replace but with 100yrs head start I think we can do it.

John G. said at October 11, 2005 3:46 PM:

Here is a good website that tackles any and all issues we may raise regarding peak oil:

http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/


The guy is a little paranoid, but he does make good points.
The biggest problem with current estimates how long we may be able to extract oil is that people don't take into account the rate of increase of consumption that goes along with economic growth and modernization of India and China.

John G.

DrBernieBear said at October 11, 2005 11:05 PM:

David Cristwell, PhD, Univ Houston, advocates a $350-450 Billion, 12-15 year program to telerobotically manufacture solar panels on the moon's surface out of the regolith (dust) and use the home cordless phone - 2.4 Ghz freq steerable beams to energize 200 yrd to 2 mi earth 'rectennas'. By mid century 10 Billion people could each have 2 kwh daily (same as current U.S. percapita use) at a tenth of today's cost. Yes, the moon is only in the sky for part of the day so you'd use storage for other times. The remaining oil supplies could be used for aircraft fuel and chemical feedstocks. All other transport could use electricty. If this sounds farfetched, note that India is developing plans for 500 nuclear powerplants using uranium-thorium breeder technology. India has an abundabce of thorium. India's prime minister visited with the President this summer to discuss relaxation of global nuclear regulations necessary before embarking on this program. The Washington press corps, on the other hand, chose to grill the President on the Karl Rove debacle. Humm...

Al L said at November 4, 2005 1:18 PM:

I am testing out a process that requires no heat,water,or solvents, and will clean the sand to be non haz. All I need is a sample of oil sand to test (100#s)does anyone know where I can get?

Ken Orzel said at December 17, 2005 1:37 PM:

I've been looking at this for a few months from an economic and political perspective and three things are clear. The goverment thinks that it still should be a 'partner', Shell looks to be well along with a process that makes sense and gives Greenpeace and the rest of the enviro-left not much to pick on and three should big oil get going on this it's market value takes a whack. If there is something that the tecnology does need is for the Federal Goverment to get this on line yesterday. The economy cannot tolerate $55 or 60 a barrel. United Air Lines biz plan is predicated on $ 50 a barrel and we will see a slowing and a rapid on as we pay off Christmas bills starting in the first quarter.

I read the Naval Pet. Reserve PPS done in April 2005 and clearly it seems that the writer may not know of the Shell project or is ignoring it for political reasons.

lennox said at March 15, 2006 9:06 AM:


to reply to bob yes the UK has coal left just oil and gas was cheeper so they all shut down

on you comments on US cars and diesel

emishans from car is more related to the content of the fuel, impuritys in diesel make cars fail. it might be high impurites in US fuel that cause VW to fail. i dont know may be some one here could find out US EU fuel content.

WHY are US car engens so large and under powered compaed to there EU

1.2L petrol 80 hp one manufatuar 2.0L get up to 400 hp evo
but it is resnble to expect 140-200 hp from a 2.0L

how mainy car in the US are under 2.0L

and on the point of diesels a modern diesel can get up to 75 + miles per galon
my 13 year old Ax can do 60 mpg at a push

Craig Capson said at April 21, 2006 3:23 PM:

Oil Shale New Technology: Not a retort, not in situ. This technology was athenticated by a major University in Utah.
Problem in a nutt shale. (1) old technology used to much water, ours does not, we only need the water in the shale itself. (2) Most of the product was burned up in the production of the oil from shale at least one third. Ours pulls out 99% oil from the shale. (3) old process also had left over a heavey oil substanc of asphalt. Ours does not.
(4)We use co2 sequestering and capture to be sold to old oil wells to get what is left over in those thrust belts. So ours is a green process. We do not use electricty to heat, but use a inert gas. This fuctions turns a turbine to produce electricty at 300 mega watts of electricty per hour per day a by product. Oil recovery is 18,000 barrels per day per plant. We do not need a refinery as all cuts are done on site, Desiel, Jet Fuel, heating oil, and many other products. This new science has been tested in the lab and works, we are in the middle of funding. It will work all over the earth where there is oil shale above 7%.Other by product is cement from the spent shale 22,000 ton per day.
Cost: per barrel of oil and all other products is $13.00 to $25.00 dollars US. All other systems are not even in the race. Keep ypour eye on American Oil Production. Just in passing all other forms of energy still depend on oil to work,think about it. Thank you.

Anthony Newbill said at April 30, 2006 11:15 AM:

What about using water jet technology in a circle of injection tubes that would be positioned in a circle say a 50 foot diameter , and the injection holes in the tubes that say were drilled into the first 50 feet of the oil shale were faced inward toward the middle of the circle , and the high pressure stream of water would wash the oil from the shale , and if this water were hot , by a Nuclear plant that would be also generating electricity to pupply the western USA , and this washing effect would then be the carrier for the crude , and within this injection circle to suck up the resource there are a group of suction extraction tubes that would be poistion in and around , and below some what to collect the area being washed , and the resource is sucked up and carried to the distilling plant to skim off the oil from the water carrier , and the water is recycled back to the processing site to be reused over and over . And you would wash the area until it showed no resource and then you would extend the system down another 50 feet , and this process would be repeated over and over until the bottom of the oil shale are was reached , and then you would re -position the injection and extraction site to another area to start the process over . The injection and extraction tubes would be positioned so that the extraction tubes would be below the injection tubes so that the maximum washed free resources would be captured by the extraction tubes , and sucked up ,and out . The process of extracting Mint oil from its plant tissues , uses a water carrier concept in the distilling process , so the concept of using water as a carrier for the oil in oil shale to extract it from the area below the surface .

shortmemory said at January 17, 2007 6:59 PM:

Was there mention of a large oil shale deposit in the american great lakes area that could not be developed because of the ecology? Who over here has heard of a bio-diesel hybred car or truck?

Alwyne said at March 9, 2007 12:51 AM:

I am a technological luddite, and I want to know what, in a broad practical way, this new method of extraction means. It seems from what I have seen posted here, that there is a lot of development of the concept still needed, and study into the implications and repercussions. Global Warming was mooted quite a long time ago and here in Australia, the conservative government has refused to accept its reality until recently, claiming that more research needed to be done. With the Brown(?) report, and other broad scientific acceptance of the issue, it seems that that obfuscation has been 'put to bed'. The ecological questions are paramount, to my mind. Economies exist for people and filthy economies don't work well for people. Is it for technological reasons or political reasons (commercial political reasons for the most part) that solar energy hasn't been further developed? And what of this extraction method? Is it viable in deserts? (A lot of mention of water -what quantities, what quality, initial sourcing, what effect after use, how dispersed, local ecological effect, security needs?) Are these naive questions? Probably. What about any cautionary principle? It would be nice if in commercial enterprises, there were some sense of the Hippocratic Oath - of 'doing no harm'. Good luck, but this is what we need. Idealistic? Sure. It's odd how many 'realists', 'neo-realists' etc go to church and yet somehow to be a political idealist is unacceptable. Civilisation is not just a material entity. So we are talking oil shale extraction on this site, but it is involves more than the technology even if it starts there.

jeff said at December 15, 2007 5:39 PM:

The extraction and use of oil in this country is inevitable. We have got to have it and thats it. Get the oil out of the ground and put the opec nations on the back burnner where they belong. They have tortured this country enough. It is time to put all this Global Warming Crap on the shelf and make us self suporting.......... AND THAT IS IT!!!!!

NP said at January 17, 2008 9:17 PM:

Regarding: Craig Capson Article dated April 21, 2006

Craige - your article of April 21, 2006 offers a glimmer of hope. Extracting viable oil from shale and other similar resources has been more than a challenge. It is now almost 2 years from the date of your article. Kindly provide an update as to the relative success of the Oil Shale New Technology you discussed in April 2006.

Thank you

jeffrey paul few said at May 8, 2008 11:38 AM:

why is no one talking about Schlumberger and Raytheon's RF/CF extraction technology, the process is working.

Alan Asawa said at June 15, 2008 5:03 AM:

The Global Climate Change hysteria is proving daily to be a globalist hoax. The 'consensus' that Al Gore proclaims is actually proving to be fact. Only the consensus is moving towards the fact the global warming is not happening, or so the 32,000 scientists who recently signed their names to the "Oregon Petition" said in which they stated that there is not a man-made global warming crisis. There is not one peer reviewed study that proves that man-made CO2 emissions are causing global climate shifts. In fact all the models fail to include the biggest coolant, H2O. What has been proven is that there is a direct correlation between solar activity and global climate. We actually may be moving into a dramatic cooling trend that would be far more alarming and catastrophic than any warming trend. If the sun continues to exhibit its lack of sun spot activity, Maunder Minimum, we could be entering a mini-ice age not unlike the one Europe experienced for 70 years beginning in the 1650's. We would be well advised to begin developing real sources of energy if indeed we are stepping into the cooler.

http://www.ibdeditorials.com/IBDArticles.aspx?id=287279412587175

Scpetical Debunker said at June 19, 2008 2:57 PM:

The "Oregon Petition" was a scam and was made to look like the petition came from the National Academy of Sciences (which it did NOT), but actually came from the "Oregon Institutue of Science and Medicine" and was done long ago (1998 ... since when even more proof of global warming has accumulated). Just another case of attempted "green washing" or "astro-turfing". See http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Oregon_Institute_of_Science_and_Medicine for details on the non-teaching "institute" that perpetrated this (REAL) hoax , making outrageously untrue statements about their survey's "results" along the way -

When questioned in 1998, OISM's Arthur Robinson admitted that only 2,100 signers of the Oregon Petition had identified themselves as physicists, geophysicists, climatologists, or meteorologists, "and of those the greatest number are physicists." This grouping of fields concealed the fact that only a few dozen, at most, of the signatories were drawn from the core disciplines of climate science - such as meteorology, oceanography, and glaciology - and almost none were climate specialists. The names of the signers are available on the OISM's website, but without listing any institutional affiliations or even city of residence, making it very difficult to determine their credentials or even whether they exist at all. When the Oregon Petition first circulated, in fact, environmental activists successfully added the names of several fictional characters and celebrities to the list, including John Grisham, Michael J. Fox, Drs. Frank Burns, B. J. Honeycutt, and Benjamin Pierce (from the TV show M*A*S*H), an individual by the name of "Dr. Red Wine," and Geraldine Halliwell, formerly known as pop singer Ginger Spice of the Spice Girls. Halliwell's field of scientific specialization was listed as "biology." Even in 2003, the list was loaded with misspellings, duplications, name and title fragments, and names of non-persons, such as company names.

Jim Ross said at June 30, 2008 8:38 PM:

I agree with Jeffery Paul. The Schlumberger RF/CL extraction sounds very promising. I'm anxious to see work in the field.
We really dropped the ball in th 70s. Administrations from Carter on should have been workhorses for alternative energy.

Jay Draiman, Energy Analyst said at July 15, 2008 7:57 AM:

Use renewable energy to extract oil shale deposits
The trillion barrel oil shale and oil sand deposits in North America offer the potential to make the less energy dependent on unreliable foreign sources. However, if these unconventional deposits were produced using existing combustion processes, substantial CO2 emissions would be injected into air.
To avoid this green house gas problem and yet produce liquid fuels, a wind powered electro thermal energy storage system is described. It stores the unpredictable intermittent wind electrical energy as thermal energy over long periods in thick fossil hydrocarbon deposits. Because thermal diffusion time is very slow in such deposits, thermal energy is effectively trapped in a defined section of the hydrocarbon deposit. This allows time for the thermal energy to convert hydrocarbons into gaseous and liquid fuels. The process is highly energy-efficient and makes available considerably more energy than was expended during the heating. In addition, the method can increase the reliability of the grid and provide a load-leveling function. The wind-powered electro thermal conversion method produces substantially less CO2 than traditional shale oil extraction processes or renewable energy processes that employ a combustion step to produce the fuel.
In order to reduce the use of fossil fuel, renewable energy such as Solar and Wind should be utilized to extract the oil from shale. Additionally renewable energy should be used to power up the pumps that bring water from areas of the country where water is plentiful. Also utilize renewable energy to deliver the end product OIL to its ultimate destination for processing.
In short wherever and whenever possible utilize renewable energy to produce and ship oil and its derivatives to its various destinations.
The use of renewable energy technologies will enhance and expedite the technological advancement of renewable energy and maximize the efficiency.
We should also utilize renewable energy to produce hydrogen from water.
Cost of ENERGY has been going up since 2000, and it will keep going up as long as world population increases and various industrial and developing nations demand for energy increases.
There is no way around – we must develop renewable energy and increase the current renewable energy technology’s efficiency and reduce cost to the end-user.
Has anyone considered using the oil shale deposits in Colorado? The U.S. has the largest reserves of oil shale in the world by far. In a RAND Corporation report in 2005, it stated that oil shale production would be economically viable when oil reached $75 dollar per barrel.

Randall Parker said at July 15, 2008 5:55 PM:

Jay Draiman,

In 2005 lots of cost estimates were much lower than they are today. That holds true for conventional oil extraction, nuclear power plant construction, coal power plant construction, and also for oil shale. Back in 2005 Shell thought they could produce oil shale for $30 per barrel. Um, they've since pushed out their schedule for when they might start producing and I bet their estimated costs have skyrocketed.

Fifth-generation said at July 25, 2008 10:55 AM:

We've been playing the shale shell-game in Colorado for generations.

The shale-oil extraction process has been proven to do at least one thing remarkably well, and that is to seperate fools from their money. The formula for the break-even point for production always ends up being the current price of crude +20%. Not sure what Shell's after. Maybe attracting capital investment (read: raising share prices) or cashing in on some subsidies and tax credits. Maybe both.

If it puts downward pressure on the oil market I'm all for it, but there are a couple serious issues to contend with.

1) Water. Huge amounts of it are needed for processing either above ground or in-situ for the two recovery methods that actually work. Those shale deposits sit in watersheds that get maybe 12" of rain in a good year and that do not have geology conducive to reservoir projects.

2) Tailings. Rubbleizing rock increases the surface area that is exposed to water moving over or through it. This leads to mineral leaching and acidification of streams and groundwater. Nobody wants drinking water laden with heavy metals for themselves or their livestock. Remediation of tailings is hugely expensive, and may be a technical impossibility given the amount of rock that would be disturbed in a large-scale commercial operation. The deposits aren't in an area of the country where it would be economically feasible to use them for concrete aggregate. What happens if a company folds-up and leaves tailings behind? Well, then you've got one heck of a mess that will have to be cleaned-up at taxpayer expense negating any savings at the pump.

michael said at May 20, 2010 12:36 PM:

wow, there is a company doing insitu that appears to have overcome the shortcomings. AMSO is an independant that is 50% owned by Total. They claim they need to import less then 1 barrel of water for every barrel of oil. There are no rubbelized rock and there are no ground water (drinking water) contamination.Although this is not a panacea...it is something we as a country must pursue as well as wind and solar. As a nation we must pursue all available options until we have developed the technology to replace the existing technology.

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