Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Will oil shale save the day?

Some of us keep the vague recollection of trillions of tons of oil shale, waiting in Colorado to be exploited, tucked away in our minds as a kind of happy place retreat when the realities of peak oil intrude and frighten us. The truth may be that ounce for ounce coal shale may contain less energy than a pop tart.

Here’s the last three paragraph from this article, “Oil shale may be fool's gold” by Randy Udall and Steve Andrews:

Americans love panaceas. We want thinner thighs in 30 days, a pill to cure baldness, an ultrasonic carburetor that will double our mileage. A magic wand would be nice, because the nation faces serious energy challenges. Since domestic oil production peaked 30 years ago, the need for energy efficiency, conservation and renewable energy has been obvious. Instead, like an addict on a binge, we continue to pursue a policy of "strength through exhaustion." Drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge before improving our woeful vehicle efficiency is one example of this brain-dead approach.

What contribution can oil shale make to energy security? Producing 100,000 barrels per day of shale oil does not violate the laws of physics. But the nation currently consumes that much oil every seven minutes. Improving the efficiency of our automobiles by 2 miles per gallon would save 10 times as much fuel, saving consumers $100 billion at the pump. The National Academy of Sciences has stated that cars, trucks and SUVs that get 30, 40 or 50 miles per gallon are doable. An aggressive national commitment to fuel efficiency is not optional, it's inevitable. In time, a more efficient fleet could save 20 times as much petroleum as oil shale is likely to ever provide.

All hype aside, oil shale is the poorest of the fossil fuels, containing far less energy than crude oil, much less even than hog manure, peat moss or Cap'n Crunch. A meager amount of energy, tightly bound up in an enormous volume of rock, oil shale seems destined to remain an elusive bonanza, the petroleum equivalent of fool's gold.
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