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Experts debate oil shale’s future

Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Daily News
GRAND JUNCTION — Battling viewpoints on oil shale were presented on Friday at a water seminar sponsored by the Colorado River District.

The theme of the conference was “Water: Fueling the Future?” and much of that question pertains to how much water it might take to extract oil from the vast oil shale deposits in Western Colorado, eastern Utah and southeastern Wyoming.

“Half of the world’s oil shale is within 100 miles of this room,” Randy Udall of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency told the audience at the Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction.

And he thinks the oil shale should stay in the ground.

“We have one energy boom in our region and that’s plenty,” he said.

He said that oil shale has low energy content and it is not worth the environmental degradation, water use, and intense electricity use that would go along with intense oil shale production.

Udall believes that pursuing energy efficiency measures makes far more sense than developing elaborate and technically complex schemes to heat the oil shale in the ground as part of the process of turning it into fuel.

“I do think there are better ways to address our energy needs than oil shale,” he said. “The way we are using petroleum right now in the United States today is a tragedy and it’s kind of a bad joke and we will not use it this stupidly and this wastefully in the future. So oil shale will have to compete with all kinds of ways to save this precious fluid we call oil or ‘black magic.'”

But Tony Dammer, the director of the Office of Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves with U.S. Department of Energy, said the federal government is bullish on oil shale development and that the potential exists for 2 trillion barrels of oil to be extracted from the oil shale in the Green River Basin region.

“It is a huge, secure source,” he said.
(17 September 2007)

Water needs for potential oil shale industry could complicate things

Dennis Webb, Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Colorado)
America’s thirst for oil is threatening to add to the thirst for water in the West.

Meeting the nation’s energy needs also is threatening water quality in the region, speakers said Friday at a seminar in Grand Junction on energy development’s impacts on water. The seminar was organized by the Colorado River District, based in Glenwood Springs.

It focused on possible oil shale development, which is considered to be an elephant in the room when it comes to planning for Colorado’s future needs.

High oil prices and a diminishing global supply have renewed interest in the oil shale industry, which went bust in the early 1980s. If the industry took off, full production could reach 2.5 million barrels per day. Each barrel could require 1 to 3 barrels of water to produce.

If full production occurred, that would require additional withdrawals of water from the Colorado and other rivers in western Colorado, said Cathy Wilson, who has studied the oil shale industry’s water needs for Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Her study found that the White River in northwest Colorado might be able to support production of 500,000 barrels of oil per day, but only with creation of 16,000 acre feet of new water storage to provide backup during dry years.
(15 September 2007)

How Canada Went from 21st to 2nd in World’s Oil Reserves

Dan Woynillowicz (World Watch), AlterNet
The United States has its hopes pinned on Canada’s “tar sands” for North American security in the oil market. But their “black gold” is an environmental nightmare.
It’s well-known that the United States consumes more oil per capita than any other country in the world, absorbing two-thirds of global oil production. This heavy dependence has often, and aptly, been described as an addiction; even U.S. President George W. Bush trotted out the metaphor in his 2006 State of the Union address (“America is addicted to oil”).

Most of us regard addictions (to anything) as inherently unhealthy and admission of the problem as the first step toward getting clean. In this case, however, U.S. policy has simply been to seek increased oil imports from more reliable sources closer to home, in effect, to replace distant and unstable dealers with one from the neighborhood — specifically, Canada, already the kingpin dealer of oil to the United States. In 2005 Canada exported almost 1.5 million barrels per day to the United States, about 7 percent of U.S. daily consumption. Canada exports 66 percent of its domestic crude oil production, and since 1995 the United States has received 99 percent of these exports. At first glance, it would seem that Canada wouldn’t be able to boost oil production to fill the gap; production of conventional light and heavy oil in Canada was predicted to peak in 2006 and then rapidly decline. But that’s where Canada’s “unconventional” tar sands come in.

The vast bulk of Canada’s tar sands is found in the province of Alberta, the country’s most prolific producer of fossil fuels. The tar sands deposits underlie more than 140,000 square kilometers of relatively pristine boreal forest, an area larger than the state of Florida.
(17 September 2007)

Tar Sands: The Oil Junkie’s Last Fix, Part 2

Chris Nelder, The Oil Drum: Canada
This is a continuation of my previous article (Tar Sands: The Oil Junkie’s Last Fix, Part 1) on the challenges facing the Canadian tar sands, in which we looked at the cost and financing issues. Today we look at water, energy, labour and the environment.

…What we have here is arguably the most environmentally destructive activity man has ever attempted, with a compliant government, insatiable demand and an endless supply of capital turning it into “a speeding car with a gas pedal and no brakes.” It sucks down critical and rapidly diminishing amounts of both natural gas and water, paying neither for its consumption of natural capital nor its environmental destruction, to the utter detriment of its host. And all to eke out maybe a 10% profit, if it turns out that the books haven’t been cooked, and if the taxation structure remains a flat-out giveaway.

All of that, just to produce enough oil to offset the declining conventional oil production in the rest of Canada. Maybe.
(9 September 2007)

Alberta: The Saudi-Arabia of the North?
Margot Gerritsen, Smart Energy Show
The strong dependency of the US on petroleum over the next several decades makes the increase in production of heavy oils in Canada inevitable. However, given the current state of technology it will be very challenging to produce oil from this source in an environmentally friendly manner. Ian Gates from the University of Calgary explains why in this video podcast.

Western Canada is very rich in heavy oils. These thick oils that have the consistency of molasses or even peanut butter are rather tricky to produce in an environmentally friendly manner. For example, to stimulate production the industry often uses steam injection (heat makes the oil runnier). To create the steam gas is burned, which leads to often large carbon emissions, to create the steam. However, with our strong dependency in the next several decades on petroleum, and the decline of easy to produce oil reserves, it is inevitable that the production of these oils will increase. The prospect is not that rosy, given the current state of technology. However, experts in the petroleum industry are adamant that green and sustainable ways for their production will be found.

Listen to Ian Gates from the University of Calgary, who explains why Alberta faces potential wealth, but also many challenges.

Because of the importance of the heavy oil resources, we will revisit this topic again shortly. We must find ways to produce heavy oils in a sustainable manner. My colleagues and I are actively searching for improved production strategies. So many challenges, so little time.
(11 September 2007)