The Energy Department’s Strategic Unconventional Fuels Fantasy

The DOE’s Strategic Unconventional Fuels Task Force has issued its surreal final report:

Responsible development of America’s oil shale, tar sands, heavy oil, coal, and oil resources amenable to recovery by carbon dioxide injection, by private industry, supported and encouraged by government actions to reduce uncertainties and stimulate investment, could supply all of the Department of Defense’s domestic fuels demand by 2016, and supply upwards of 7 million barrels [a day] of domestically produced liquid fuels to domestic markets by 2035.


How does the Task Force explain how one can have “responsible development” of resources to an extent that would spell certain doom for the climate?

In this report, they insist “The integrated program could achieve these goals in a sustainable and environmentally sound manner.” In Volume II, they have a “Carbon Management Cross-Cut Plan” whose first two objectives are:

  • Achieve and exceed emissions parity with conventional petroleum by producing concentrated streams of industrial grade CO2 and beneficially utilizing the incremental increase in CO2 production over that of conventional petroleum.
  • Enhance industry’s ability to utilize the produced CO2 byproduct for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and other beneficial uses.

First off, using captured CO2 from unconventional oil to extract more oil from the ground through EOR is NOT the same as carbon sequestration, as I have previously argued.

Second, it is very unlikely that oil shale, tar sands, or liquid coal, could achieve emissions parity with conventional petroleum even with carbon capture.

Third, we need to reduce U.S. CO2 emissions — and hence U.S. oil consumption — 60% to 80% by mid-century, not sharply increase the dirtiest forms of unconventional oil.

What are the details of the fantasy?

Incremental Production Objectives (2035)

  • Oil Shale — 2.5 MMBbl/d
  • Tar Sands — 0.53 MMBbl/d
  • Coal Liquids — 2.6 MMBbl/d
  • Heavy Oil — 0.75 MMBbl/d
  • CO2 EOR — 1.3 MMBbl/d

You read that right — 2.5 million barrels a day of oil shale and 2.6 million barrels a day of coal liquids.

Thankfully, there is no chance whatsoever this will happen, as DOE itself knows. I actually attended a preliminary briefing of this study many months ago where leading energy experts ridiculed these conclusions and a senior DOE official wouldn’t defend them. Still, good to see our tax dollars at work so productively.

In case you want to know who signed their names to this, here goes:


Hon. Samuel W. Bodman, Secretary, U.S. Department of Energy
Mr. John D. Shages, Deputy Assistant Secretary (Official Representative)
Hon. Robert Gates, Secretary, U.S. Department of Defense
Mr. Paul P. Bollinger Jr., Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment & Logistics (Official Representative)
Hon. Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior
Dr. Foster Wade, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Land and Minerals (Official Representative)

Hon. Bill Ritter, Jr., Governor of the State of Colorado
Mr. Michael King, Deputy Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Official Representative)
Hon. Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., Governor of the State of Utah, Task Force Co-Chair
Dr. Laura S. Nelson, Energy Advisor (Official Representative)
Hon. Dave Freudenthal, Governor of the State of Wyoming
Ms. Mary Flanderka, Director, Wyoming Governor’s Office of Planning (Official Representative)
Hon. Ernie Fletcher, Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Task Force Co-Chair
Mr. William H. Bowker, Director, Kentucky Division of Fossil Fuels and Utility Services (Official Representative)
Hon. Haley Barbour, Governor of the State of Mississippi
Mr. A. D. “Monty” Montgomery, Jr., Office of Natural Resources, Mississippi Development Authority (Official Representative)

Mr. Craig Meis, Chairman, Mesa County Commission, Colorado
Mr. Bill Johnson, Executive Director, Uintah County Vernal City Economic Development, Utah
Mr. T. Alan Bates, Community Representative, Choctaw County Economic Development Foundation, Mississippi

But what about the communities impacted by catastrophic climate change? Where were their our representatives?

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3 Responses to The Energy Department’s Strategic Unconventional Fuels Fantasy

  1. Shannon says:

    All Bush has to do is wave a magic wand and these technologies suddenly become the clean technologies that will save us from global warming. He is amazing!

  2. Mark Braly says:

    What the Defense Dept. needs is super efficient equipment running on really unconventional non-carbon fuels. They need to move away from the burdensome, expensive long tail of carbon fuels. It’s not sustainable strategically or financially. Amory Lovins has done some work with them on this. I hope it has some impact.

  3. obewan says:

    Carbon sequestration is already a proven technology. At Kinder Morgan in Texas, over 1.5 million cu ft of co2 is captured daily and pumped deep underground for permanent storage. We only have 30 years left on conventional oil. Mexico is our number 2 oil supplier, and they are slated to go bone bare dry out of oil in only 9 more years. When people are starving, and there is world wide economic chaos, people will change their tune and be open to other options in the energy mix. Why are more people not attacking ethanol? It is perhaps worse than liguid coal. It takes more energy to produce than it yields. It takes 1.5 gallons of ethanol to equal 1 gallon of gas. It costs about $4.50 a gallon today. We should spend the tax dollars wasted on ethanol production on carbon sequestration for clean liquid coal production.