Thursday, July 31, 2008

Oil Shale - Step Towards Energy Independence

Currently, the United States uses 21 million barrels of oil a day, though consumption has been flat for the last 3 years, and dropped 3% in just the first 6 months of 2008. Unfortunately, the US only produces about 6 million barrels a day. This means we send $200 billion a year overseas to import oil.

No one likes being dependent upon others, particularly when what we are dependent upon is of such vital importance. Worse, a lot of that $200 billion goes to fund governments that at best are undemocratic and at worst bankroll and support terrorism.

The problem is, most of the world's oil is controlled by these less than friendly, to put it mildly, regimes. It is estimated that there are 1.3 trillion barrels of proven oil reserves worldwide, of which the US controls 21 billion. This data makes it seem impossible for the US to ever get out from under OPEC's thumb.

Impossible, that is, until you consider that the United States has an additional 2 trillion barrels of synthetic oil just waiting to be captured and refined. It's called oil shale, and the United States has over 60% of the world's supply. The technology used to extract oil from shale has steadily improved since the 80's, when conventional oil prices fell precipitously from their 70's oil crisis peak, making shale too unprofitable to pursue. But now, shale oil can be profitable with oil prices as low as $20 a barrel. Prices now sit in the $125 range.

Clearly, if the United States wants a push for energy independence, oil shale has to be at the top of the to-do list.


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be a lot smarter to focus on breaking our dependence on oil entirely? Just a thought.

Also, your research is incomplete. Oil shale production is still a good 7 to 10 years off in extraction method perfection, not to mention the two possible means of extraction are mountain top removal (complete destruction of some of the most beautiful and unique areas in Utah) and "boil out", or superheated the rock, catching what "seeps" down. And as any geologist (I am one) can tell you, it ain't just oil seeping down. Ground water effects have yet to be studied.

It's a nice thought that Chris Cannon really wanted us to elect him on. But unfortunately, America needs a larger, more far reaching vision than this.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to set you straight on the matter. There is a lot of misinformation out there being sold as "science."


Charles D said...

Glad you've changed the subject. I was getting bored with the founders.

So oil shale: "Oil shale facilities take 5 years to construct, with an additional year required to bring a new facility into full production." (US Energy Information Agency) Apparently one has to remove and process 1 ton of rock to obtain 30 gallons of oil.

According to Wikipedia, "Oil-shale mining involves a number of environmental impacts, more pronounced in surface mining than in underground mining. They include acid drainage induced by the sudden rapid exposure and subsequent oxidation of formerly buried materials, the introduction of metals into surface-water and groundwater, increased erosion, sulfur-gas emissions, and air pollution caused by the production of particulates during processing, transport, and support activities." and "Water is also needed to add hydrogen to the oil-shale oil before it can be shipped to a conventional oil refinery. The largest deposit of oil shale in the United States is in western Colorado, a dry region with no surplus water."

Again, we are looking at an expensive, environmentally damaging process that will not yield results for at least 7 years and will not provide enough supply to impact the increasing demand worldwide.

Why would we want to cause all this irreparable environmental damage when it won't do anything for prices at the pump or for our dependence on foreign oil? Why not take the obvious step?

C O N S E R V A T I O N !!!!!!

Cameron said...

"Thanks for giving me the opportunity to set you straight on the matter."

Seriously? If you're objective is to change my mind on something, you'll have to be less of an idiot. Just a thought.

Oil shale has been used since the 1800s. It's not new. It uses far less water than ethanol does, and actually creates energy, rather than creating a net loss of energy.

We have technology that doesn't require mining in the traditional sense. I linked to it in the post. There is virtually no surface impact, and groundwater is kept safe. Shell has tested it and it works. The next phase is to test it on a large, commercial basis.

Speaking of testing new technology that could erase the need of giving terrorists $200 billion a year, Australia had an oil shale mine for a few years that was used to test new technology. Greenpeace shut it down because oil causes global warming.

As for alternatives, please show me one that has the energy capacity of 2 trillion barrels of oil; even one that will take only DL's estimate of 7 years to fully come on line.

DL, again you ride the one trick pony of conservation. Do you realize that US consumption of oil has been flat since 2004? That it has fallen 3% through the first six months of 2008 alone? And what has happened to oil prices in that time?

Conservation alone will not work.

Now, conservation is great. It should be a part of any national energy policy. In fact, it was part of the national energy policy proposed 7 years ago. Wait, seven years. According to DL's math, we could be energy independent right now.

Frank Staheli said...

This it will take 7 years (or 10 years) that I keep hearing drives me absolutely bonkers.

It takes time to do anything. It's been at least 7 or 10 years since you terrorist-coddling, car-hating crazies said that we can't do it because it will ruin the environment!

I agree that petroleum is a detriment to the environment. However, the SECOND step to having a clean environment is to wean ourselves away from petroleum. No matter how you slice it, it will take a lot longer than 7 to 10 years to accomplish that. The FIRST step to having a clean environment is to reduce our dependence on terrorists.

If you disagree with the order of those two steps, then you must love trees more than people.

Charles D said...

Obviously as I have said repeatedly, conservation is not the only tactic we need. However, it is without doubt the quickest way to move us toward energy independence. We don't have to wait 7 years!

The only other thing we could do in the short term is reduce the speculation that is driving prices upward by stopping our needless belligerence toward oil-producing countries (including Iraq) and imposing tighter regulations on the trade in commodity futures.

When a person is addicted to cocaine, or alcohol or heroin, the treatment of choice is never to give them more coke, booze or heroin. Oil addiction is the same. Pushing more oil into the system only prolongs our dependence, and has the noxious side effect of destroying more the environment.

I know you aren't going to change your mind. I don't know why. The position you hold on this issue simply isn't logical.

Cameron said...

DL, we use 21 million barrels of oil a day. We produce 6 million. That's a whole lotta conservation. Not to mention the fact that all of our conservation efforts for the last 4 years have resulted in gas prices doubling.

I realize conservation is not the only thing you have advocated. You also promote alternative fuels. But, like I said, show me a fuel that has the capacity of 2 trillion barrels of oil and can be ready in less than a decade, if not today.

You also advocate reducing speculation. Utah's own Jim Matheson (a Democrat that Democrats hate) introduced a bill that would mitigate some of those concerns. Although Ben Bernanke told Idaho's Senator Mike Crapo that speculation has little effect on oil prices. Either way, producing 2 trillion barrels of our own oil would make a pretty big impression on oil speculators, no? It likely would make a huge impression on OPEC as well.

As for belligerance towards oil producing countries, that's a pretty huge part of this post. We send $200 Billion to oil producing countries, most of whom are no friend of ours. It is very interesting to me that DL and Frank share basically the same opinion on Iraq in regards to war for oil etc, yet come to opposite conclusions when it comes to energy independence. Here's the deal. If the government of the United States is as evil and oil mongering as is claimed, then that's all the more reason to make our own. Why invade Iraq solely for oil when we don't need theirs anymore? Why be so cozy with Saudi Arabia despite its dubious actions and intentions if we don't need their oil anymore? Why pretend we like Canadians if we no longer have to import their oil? :-)

I looked around for some form of energy that could make us independent the quickest, and most likeliest. Shale is the only one. (Besides coal, which I didn't write about out of fear of Sierra Club assassins.)

The Lady Logician said...

DL - Conservation has to be PART of the solution but it will never, ever be the whole solution. America can NOT control how much oil the rest of the world uses and the WORLD WIDE NEED for more oil is great.

The ONLY solution is one that is all inclusive - that emphasizes nuclear, clean coal, wind, solar, natural gas, expanded drilling AND conservation. Any answer that does not include all of the above is an incomplete half baked plan.


Charles D said...

You're right about one thing. The goal is energy independence. How do we get there?

Obviously we cannot conserve 2/3 of our current petroleum usage, but we no doubt can conserve 10% in the short term and up to 30% or more within 10 years if we invest in alternative sources, alternative transportation modes, etc.

If we turn to drilling now as our "answer", we encourage Americans to continue using oil at the current rate, and China and India will still be increasing their usage rapidly. By the time the new US oil reaches the market, it will be a drop in the bucket compared to the elevated demand, and thus will do nothing much to alleviate prices. (By the way, why did Republicans oppose a bill encouraging oil companies to drill on the 68 million acres of US land they are already permitted to drill on?)

There will simply never be enough oil to meet world demand again. No matter how much oil the US oil companies pump out of our ground and water, the nation will still need more. The military is the largest consumer of petroleum products in the US, and virtually all that usage is for purposes other than protecting America. Cutting our military down to normal size would dramatically reduce demand and lower prices. Why aren't Republicans calling for that?

Coal and shale are not the only options either. Solar technology has advanced to the point that homes I can generate 11,000 KWH at home for $42,000 after NY State rebates. Federal incentives could make that quite inexpensive. Community-based wind farms could generate almost all the remaining residential requirement. The only thing lacking is political will (no doubt due to lots of "contributions" from the energy industry who wants to keep everything large-scale).

Continuing to emphasize oil drilling and giving more tax breaks to big oil will further delay our adoption of sustainable technologies.

Cameron said...

"If we turn to drilling now as our "answer", we encourage Americans to continue using oil at the current rate"

Not really. Not if what else you say is correct.

If our 2 trillion barrels of oil shale won't make a difference in world oil prices, then we'll still be looking at at least $4 gasoline.

Guess what has caused US oil consumption to be flat since 2004 and drop 3% in 2008? $4 gasoline.

Your supply and demand argument guarantees that US consumption will not increase even if we drill more of our own oil.

We'll just be using our own instead of Iran's.

"Cutting our military down to normal size would dramatically reduce demand"

And as I noted previously, if we are using our own oil, all the "war for oil" banners could be taken down. We could easily cut it down to normal size.

"Coal and shale are not the only options either."

They are the only ones that are proven to work now.

You mention solar, and with a straight face say that installing solar panels on your home only costs $43,000 after all of the tax breaks. And here I thought it would be expensive.

(As a side note, $7k of the tax breaks assumes you actually owe at least that much in taxes. Granted, if you can afford a $43k solar panel, you probably owe some tax. But still, it's an important thing to be aware of.)

We currently do not have the technology to produce any alternative form of energy on a large scale that even comes close to replacing the fossil fuels we have used for centuries.

There are some that could be used in addition to coal/oil, as a means of supplementing them, but to completely overtake them as a fuel source for the entire country? No way. It's just not there.

Charles D said...

If we simply remove all the tax breaks and "incentives" going to the oil, gas and coal industries (none of which are doing anything useful with them anyway) and the ethanol subsidies and use that money to subsidize the installation of solar panels on homes and businesses and the development of community-based wind farms, the R&D in solar and wind technology would increase rapidly and what problems remain could be solved.

The oil companies already have permission to drill on 68 million acres of Federal land, but are doing nothing. They are getting numerous tax breaks and "investing" them all in record profits.

If government is going to intervene in the marketplace, it should be to promote industries that are under capitalized and which serve the long-term bests interests of the nation. Oil, gas, coal, corn and nuclear simply don't qualify. If they are successful in the free market, fine, but don't prop them up with taxpayer funds.

Cameron said...

All of those alternative energy sources will take at least a decade to make a dent in US consumption, even with massive conservation efforts. Plus, they would require hundreds of millions of government dollars, if not more, to get there. And even then there's no guarantee they'd even work.

2 trillion barrels of oil shale requires the government to give us permission to drill. Period.

Charles D said...

And the oil shale will also take about ten years, and you don't think the oil companies are going to spend their money on the expensive process of extracting oil from shale, do you? The alternative energy industry will put in the R&D if the oil company tax breaks are repealed and given to home owners and communities.

Cameron said...

"you don't think the oil companies are going to spend their money on the expensive process of extracting oil from shale, do you?"

Yes. Because it makes them money.

Here's the key, and this is critical. Solar, wind, geothermal and anything else do not currently have the capacity to replace oil. And there's no guarantee they ever will. You can give them all the tax breaks you want, and still wind up with a failed product.

Meanwhile, we have 2 trillion barrels of oil on our own soil. With current technology in place to get it and use it.

It makes no sense to put all your eggs in the risky alternative basket when you have a proven commodity already in place. More rational would be to use what we know we have, while continuing to research and develop alternatives.

The Lady Logician said...

Cameron and DL - you are both right that alternatives AND drilling are not going to provide immediate relief. I think 10 years might be a little pessimistic, but then again I am a bit of a cockeyed optimist! I believe the spirit of ingenuity that the American people possess can find us answers sooner - but I digress.

So we don't get results for 8-10 years - does that mean we just give up and DO NOTHING NOW? 12 years ago, President Bill Clinton when he vetoed a bill that would have allowed additional drilling in area 10-02, said we would not see that oil for 10 years. Would you look at where we are now? 12 years down the road and in DIRE NEED of that oil.

We need to be forward thinking on this issue. That means thinking 10-12 years down the road - not just what it will do for us today.


Unknown said...

possibly. I still think oil is messy. I think we ought to be focusing our energy on developing greener, more renewable technologies. But this is a sight deal better than drilling offshore or in wilderness preserves.

Cameron said...

Nosurfgirl, it doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. We can conserve and continue to develop alternatives and still use oil.

It's a false dichotomy to say only alternatives will save us or only drilling will save us.

It doesn't have to be one or the other.