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The Cautious U.S. Boom in Oil Shale
Clifford Krauss, NY Times
…Last month, the Bush administration opened up five large parcels of land in the Piceance Creek Basin in Colorado for oil shale research and development projects, and Mr. Vawter has bounded out of retirement to manage the efforts of EGL Resources, which will begin pilot tests early in 2007.
Government estimates of recoverable shale oil in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming put the reserves at 800 billion barrels – more than triple the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. So aside from Mr. Vawter, now many in Washington have their eyes on a big prize, not in small part for the promise it might hold to ease national security concerns. “It could literally shake the world,” Senator Pete V. Domenici, a Republican from New Mexico, told a recent Senate hearing.
But there are plenty of good reasons no one has ever come up with a profitable, environmentally acceptable method for extracting oil from shale. Not only were the previous efforts too expensive and too energy- intensive to compete with conventional oil resources, they also laid waste to the land, produced lots of air pollution and threatened scarce groundwater in one of the driest regions of the country.
(21 Dec 2006)
Oil sands key target for global energy players
Dave Ebner, Globe and Mail
Alberta’s oil sands are a “prime target” for international energy companies, one Bay Street investment dealer predicts — and another Bay Street player maintains that northern Alberta accounts for more than half of the world’s “investable” oil assets.
UBS Securities Canada Inc. estimates that global oil companies will generate $235-billion in free cash flow in 2007 and 2008, and that even if they were to spend aggressively on share buybacks and dividends there would still be a lot of money left over.
…Alberta also offers a stable government, “a huge safety premium, not only in terms of political stability, but with regard to the legal protection of property rights,” according to Jeffrey Rubin, chief economist at CIBC World Markets Inc.
He estimates that of the world’s oil properties, the Alberta oil sands represents 60 per cent of the resources where energy companies can put money. The calculation is based on the fact that countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia are not open to foreigners’ cash.
(10 Dec 2006)
Toxic waste left in wake of oil sands extraction
Gerald Jamenko, Post-Tribune
It takes enough oil sands to fill the backs of four half-ton pickup trucks to make one 42-gallon, 275-pound barrel of clean crude — plus a vat of water big enough to wash the two tons of ore.
About 85 percent of the material dug up by the Alberta industry’s gargantuan earth-moving equipment is discarded. As a result, the bitumen extraction method, a hot water process for separating oil from sand first patented in 1929, creates environmental issues on a scale to match the production megaprojects.
The biggest single headache, wet waste or “tailings” ponds, has spawned generations of industrial, government and academic research. The incomplete quest for a speedy cleanup system continues at numerous institutions, especially in the province’s political and educational capital of Edmonton.
…Some of the materials are toxic. Startling features of oil sands complexes include scarecrows and frequent bangs by mechanical shotguns to shoo water birds away from landing on the ponds.
(3 Dec 2006)