I think anyone who’s read my posts understands that I am not
a petroleum geologist, but I have work experience in the energy field. One of
the many things I don’t
know much about is oil shale, so what I’m posting is based on a very cursory examination of the resource, its
potentials, and considerations involved in its extraction. Here are some of the things I’ve gleaned:
According to Astrocreep’s citations (in particular, Patriot Energy Corporation (
) oil shale is best mined via the open-pit approach, which allows for
full extraction, but leaves huge (three or four mile square) holes in the ground, which permanently “uglify” and damage the area’s ecosystem; or
require a lot of money to bring back to the original look – which costs, of course are amortized by the people who use the oil.
The Alberta-Taciuk Processor (ATP) Retort proposed for the processing is touted as “ energy self-sufficient and mechanically simple … dry
process … no tailing ponds … low operating costs and flexibility in construction that permits staged development.” I’d never heard of the ATP
process and spent about a half-hour researching it; it’s a nifty approach, and anyone interested in the engineering aspects should Google it. ATP
is probably the way to go for oil shale exploitation, and, although it really isn’t completely energy self-sufficient, it does produce quite a bit
of the heat by burning the shale itself. It also is relatively water-intensive, and this is a bad thing, since much of the oil shale deposits in the
United States are in the relatively arid West.
Since the oil-shale recovery approach is small-scale, it’s difficult to find a handle on the costs, but I have seen off-the-cuff estimates tossed
around like 8 to 12 dollars per barrel for a mature oil-shale approach (of course, the costs are higher now, because oil shale technology is still
relatively new). The best overview I have found for oil shale is a quote from the World Energy Council (
), which states:
”Perhaps oil shale will eventually find a place in the world economy, but the energy demands of blasting, transport, crushing, heating and adding
hydrogen, together with the safe disposal of huge quantities of waste material, are large. On a small scale, and with good geological and other
favorable conditions, such as water supply, oil shale may make a modest contribution but so far shale oil remains the "elusive energy".
In summary, it does not look like oil shale is a viable candidate right now to replace petroleum wells, given the environmental, extraction, and
But there is another consideration
which (at least in my opinion) obviates against oil shale exploitation. Regardless of the recovery and
environmental amelioration costs, if we follow the oil-shale recovery approach, we will still be adding a few more decades of hydrocarbon-burning to
an already-stressed Earth; developing an infrastructure which will not be able to be used when we switch over to a more environmentally friendly and
cost-effective means of generating power, and wasting precious time and lung tissue by putting off development and implementation of a better approach
to energy production.
I think large-scale oil shale recovery is a bad idea.