In This Issue
- Feds Issue Another Cautionary Note
- Black Sunday Revisited
- Looking Ahead - Oil Shale Tracker
- Correcting the Record
- Quotable Quotes
- Recent News
Correcting the Record
Myth: “Shale oil” and “oil shale” are the same.
Fact:False. “Shale oil” is conventional oil found in shale deposits that is accessible through recently perfected horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques. The Bakken Formation, for example, is an oil-bearing strata covering parts of Montana, North Dakota, and Saskatchewan. That formation contains oil locked in shale and dolomite.
“Oil shale” does not contain oil, but contains kerogen, a precursor to oil. Oil shale is considered an “unconventional fuel”.
Unconventional oil production is less efficient and has more environmental impacts than conventional oil production. Unconventional fuels include oil shale, coal-to-liquids, tar sands, and heavy oil.
“Overnight, 2,600 people lost their jobs. Overnight, small towns in Western Colorado learned difficult lessons about the speed of the corporate guillotine. Overnight, county commissioners and town planners learned that talk is cheap when oil gets cheaper.”
Andrew Gulliford on remembering Black Sunday, May 2, 2010
. . .
“The oil shale calculus never has made sense.Not fiscally, not environmentally, not socially. The costs and impacts are too high. There’s a reason an oil shale industry did not work in the 1920s or in the 1980s, and it won’t work now. There’s nothing sustainable about it.”
Andrew Gulliford on remembering Black Sunday, May 2, 2010,
“I don’t know when we'll see commercial development on public lands.It’s an industry that is not ready for prime time.”
Steve Black, Counselor to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, April 28, 2010
“No matter what method is used, there are powerful economies of scale, which suggest very large, capital-intensive projects. As has been pointed out above, if western-U.S. oil shales are ever mined, those mines will be the largest of any type on earth.”
National Petroleum Council, July 18, 2007, Working Paper
(WRA note: Development in Utah would be via retort, which requires mining)
“The only practical way to preserve a planet resembling that of the Holocene (today's world) with reasonably stable shorelines and preservation of species, is to rapidly phase out coal emissions and prohibit emissions from unconventional fossil fuels such as oil shale and tar sands.”
Dr. Pushker Kharecha, Columbia University/ NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, April 30, 2010
• AP (via multiple media outlets): Fed Official: Oil Shale Not Ready for ‘Prime Time’
• Deseret News: Speakers in Salt Lake City tout possibilities at Unconventional Fuels Conference
• Grand Junction Daily Sentinel: Boomtown Blues and Black Sunday, 28 Years Later
• Science Blog: A roadmap for 'the only practical way to preserve the planet'
Oil Shale Policy Advisor
(303) 444-1188 x221
From the President's Desk
Thirty years ago, Exxon proclaimed it would be producing 8 million barrels of shale oil by 2010. Only two years after making this bold claim, the industry went bust as Exxon pulled out of its Colony Project, leaving more than 2,000 people out of work in a single day.
We are being asked again to believe that production of oil shale is a good idea. Industry leaders, such as Shell, Exxon, Red Leaf and the Oil Shale Exploration Company (OSEC), are asserting this time will be different. A federal taskforce is cautioning “not so fast.”
A draft report issued in April by the Unconventional Fuels Taskforce, Unconventional Fossil Energy: Domestic Resource Opportunities and Technology Applications, offers a sobering assessment, noting there are “significant environmental challenges to development of U.S. oil shale.” The challenges include:
• Protecting lands, including wildlife habitat and vegetation
• Protecting water quality
• Limiting emissions of criteria air pollutants
• Reducing water requirements
• Mitigating negative socio-economic impacts related to sudden industrial growth in rural areas
• Minimizing or eliminating CO2 emissions
Given the risks associated with developing oil shale, tar sands and other dirty fuels, we should look instead towards a clean, sustainable future. We should invest in new technologies that spur innovation in energy efficiency, protect air and water quality, reduce our carbon footprint, and lessen our dependence on oil.
Only through efficiencies and investment in clean energy technology will we achieve the critical goal of a sustainable energy future. That is the future we should envision.
Karin P. Sheldon
Feds Issue Another Cautionary Note
The Congressionally-mandated Unconventional Fuels Taskforce issued another cautionary report -- Unconventional Fossil Energy: Domestic Resource Opportunities and Technology Applications. The draft report, which is out for public comment, assumes that oil shale retort technologies are “commercially proven” but that “[t]he major technical challenges (not environmental) to commercial development include relatively low process energy efficiency (net energy balance) and relatively high net water requirements as compared to conventional oil production.” It also concludes that in situ technologies are not commercially proven.
The report notes that general technical challenges and associated R&D needs include the need to:
• Increase energy efficiency (net energy balance) for both surface and in situ extraction processes.
• Reduce water requirements.
• Improve the reliability of downhole heating (experimental in situ process for extracting kerogen).
• Improve our understanding of the “fundamental character of oil shale.”
• Improved understanding of pyrolysis (chemical decomposition process; issue concerns in situ technologies).
• Enhance characterization of the oil shale resource quantity and quality.
The report notes there are “significant environmental challenges to development of U.S. oil shale” including:
• Surface impacts resulting from both in situ and retort processes, and upgrading of kerogen.
• Water demand on surface and subsurface (aquifer) water resources and subsequent impacts on competing users, animal habitat and vegetation.
• Surface and/or subsurface water contamination.
• Emissions of criteria air pollutants through all process phases.
•Particulates (dust) from surface mining and/or retorting operations.
• Negative socio-economic impacts relatedto sudden industrial growth in rural areas.
• Increased CO2 emissions from power generation and shale retorting operations.
WRA Comment: The Taskforce is confusing “commercially proven” with “technologically feasible” and “commercially viable”. Certainly, companies can produce small quantities of oil via retort technology. What these companies cannot do it produce it on a commercial scale, and do so in a way that protects the environment. That’s because the technologies are not profitable and have not addressed the significant issues the report identifies.
Black Sunday Revisited
On May 2, 1982, western Colorado woke to the news that Exxon was shutting down its oil shale operations. As Andrew Gulliford recounts in his May 2, 2010, op-ed in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel commemorating Black Sunday,” Boomtown Blues and Black Sunday, 28 years later”, the oil shale boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s was “pure industry bravado, aided by federal subsidies.”
Gulliford, who lived through Black Sunday and now teaches at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO, reminds us that the 10-year business slump that followed the bust “brought stability and a more sustainable economic and environmental mix to western Colorado.” Retirees, hunters, anglers, hikers and mountain bikers, arrived in increasing numbers, seeking that Gulliford refers to as “eco-blessings” – “clean air, pristine fly fishing waters and world-class elk hunting”
To those promoting developing oil shale, Gulliford offers a cautionary note: “The oil shale calculus never has made sense. Not fiscally, not environmentally, not socially. The costs and impacts are too high. There’s a reason an oil shale industry did not work in the 1920s or in the 1980s, and it won’t work now. There’s nothing sustainable about it.”
Looking Ahead -
Oil Shale Tracker
Lawsuits– In January 2009, 13 conservation organizations, including WRA, sued the Bush Administration to block implementation of the controversial November 2008 commercial oil shale leasing regulations, and overturn the decision to open more than 2 million acres to oil shale and tar sands development. As has been reported in the press, the parties are discussing settlement of the two suits, with the federal government asking for more time from the court.
2nd Round of RD&D– Lease proposals were submitted on January 4, 2010. An interdisciplinary team has begun reviewing the proposals.