Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Shales and Husks of Men

There’s some interesting speculation about the effect of California’s pending greenhouse-gas legislation on Canada's disastrous tar sands industry:

[T]he California plan includes a formula that stipulates all greenhouse gas emissions during the life cycle of a fuel will be taken into account. In effect, not only does the crude oil product from the tar sands fail to meet the fuel quality standards of the California plan, but the greenhouse gas emissions that are generated to produce the crude would be more than sufficient to disqualify imports.
Sounds good to me! One can only hope the same calculations will be applied to American shale oil, which is once again being touted as our salvation:
Colorado and Utah have as much oil as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Nigeria, Kuwait, Libya, Angola, Algeria, Indonesia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates combined.

That's not science fiction. Trapped in limestone up to 200 feet thick in the two Rocky Mountain states is enough so-called shale oil to rival OPEC and supply the U.S. for a century.
This is journalism of a very high order indeed. You might as well say that cold fusion isn’t science fiction, because it’ll solve all our energy problems forever, just as soon as we figure it out.

To be fair, shale-oil extraction is a good deal further along than cold fusion:
"The breakthrough is that now the oil companies have a way of getting this oil out of the ground without the massive energy and manpower costs that killed these projects in the 1970s," said Pete Stark, an analyst at IHS Inc., an Englewood, Colo., research firm.
Indeed, the energy costs are negligible, as this description shows:
In the high desert near Rifle, Colo., Shell engineers are burying hundreds of steel rods 2,000 feet underground that will heat the shale to 700 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature at which Teflon melts.

The heat will be applied for the next four years….
In other words, it’ll use less energy in four years than Al Gore’s gloomy fortress atop Death Mountain uses in the average month. Or about the same amount, once you factor in the energy cost of creating an underground ice wall.

Take that, doomsayers!

The AZ Star (second link, above) article notes a couple of other interesting approaches to the shale oil problem; I’ll let you explore those for yourselves.

In unrelated news, please be advised that “some of the nation's largest farming operations are paying rock-bottom rates for the electricity they use to pump federally subsidized water to their fields.”

(Illustration at top: "Night shift in the oil shale processing plant" by Peeter Somelar, 1977.)


Anonymous said...

this oil shale thing is a joke, right? my take on oil shale

- Save and Conserve

Phila said...

this oil shale thing is a joke, right?

Well, I think so. But then, I don't have any money riding on it. I mean, besides my tax dollars and so on.

"Save and conserve" sounds like good advice to me.