Stop the shale oil madness from destroying the climate — and Colorado

stop-madness.jpgThe House GOP has made shale a cornerstone of their energy plan, and now AP reports:

The Bush administration wants to set the stage before leaving office for developing oil shale, rocky deposits in the western U.S. that could eventually yield 800 billion barrels of oil, according to government estimates.

The Interior Department is scheduled to unveil proposed regulations Tuesday for a program to sell oil shale leases on federal lands, similar to the leases sold now for oil and natural gas both on and offshore.

Shale appears to be the most destructive alternative fuel imaginable from a climate perspective, worse even than liquid coal, as I discussed here. With one-third the energy density of Cap’n Crunch, you have to put huge amounts of energy into heating the shale to turn it into a useful liquid fossil fuel. If we were to try to extract and refine as much shale oil as Bush and the conservatives want, “an additional 2.5 million barrels of oil per day” or more, that would all but guarantee a climate-destroying concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide of 1000 ppm.

It would also destroy much of the state of Colorado, where most of the shale is, and the Colorado River basin. This is clear from an exhaustive 2005 Rand Corporation study, “Oil Shale Development in the United States.” The study finds:

  • All of the Green River Formation oil shale deposits lie within the Colorado River drainage basin.
  • An industry producing 3 million barrels of shale oil per day would annually generate over a billion tons of spent shale per year.
  • Laboratory and field tests have shown that the salt content of leachate from freshly processed shale (derived from surface retorting) is significantly higher than that of raw shale. The spent shale leachate will also contain small amounts of the soluble forms of the same toxic substances that are of concern with regard to air pollution, such as arsenic and selenium.
  • The U.S. Water Resources Council estimated that oil shale development will increase annual consumptive water use in the Upper Colorado Region by about 150,000 acre-feet per year for each million barrels (oil equivalent) per day of production,
    which is the equivalent of about three barrels of water per barrel of oil.

The Colorado River is already stressed beyond its ability to provide water to increasingly drought-stricken areas down river. And exploiting the shale oil resource would ensure even worse drought: In April, Science (subs. req’d) published research that “predicted a permanent drought by 2050 throughout the Southwest” — levels of aridity comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl would stretch from Kansas to California.

So the entire Colorado River basin would be in a permanent state of drought — which is sometimes called a desert. But conservatives want to consume (and pollute) a staggering 3 billion barrels of water a year — more than 100 billion gallons of water a year. In a region they are going to turn into a desert.

Stop the shale oil madness!

6 Responses to Stop the shale oil madness from destroying the climate — and Colorado

  1. John Hollenberg says:

    Joe, where does McCain stand on this oil shale madness? This has got to be the biggest head-in-the-sand, one-more-present-for-my-oil-buddies-before-I-leave-office plans I have seen. It just doesn’t make any sense!

  2. MattKirby says:

    This is terrifying At least we have the champion Salazar in the Senate who will fight this to the end. The idea isn’t that popular with many politicians in the West, at least those who would be most affected by it. When even local politicians are against resource extraction, you know there must be something very wrong with it.

  3. Rick says:

    MattKirby, I’d like to see the oil industry tell the current users of the water, ags and residential customers, that it will be needed for this oil shale boondoggle and that Phoenix, Tuscon and Los Angeles will just have to drink sand.

  4. jorleh says:

    Maybe the Oregon petition project finds some good in this holocaust. 10 000 PhD´s can´t be wrong…

  5. mauri pelto says:

    Whoa captain crunch is even more powerful than I thought, forget ethanol. The immense water needs of processing shale will I believe spell its doom. Even the pro development western congressman will hesitate at taking water from Agriculture and cities in the Colorado River basin where all of the water is already allocated via legal entitlements.

  6. ecostew says:

    “”an additional 2.5 million barrels of oil per day” or more”

    I think 1 to 1 is low – it may actually be 4 to 1 and possible higher, which makes the net resource much smaller and GHG emissions even more of an issue.