Another huge “shale oil” find that will supposedly fuel the planet for decades has been announced. This one is in Australia.
To begin with, “shale oil” is not even oil. Calling it that was just a clever PR idea. It’s kerogen. The stuff is expensive, and very damaging to the environment, to get of the ground. Then it has to be cleaned up, What you end up with is of a ow quality. And shale well production falls off rather quickly. Etc.
The Australian find is perhaps 3.5 billion barrels of theoretically recoverable oil, compared to 3 billion supposedly recoverable barrels in the Western US, about which the following was written.
Read, and remember the next time you hear about a monster oil find that will supposedly keep The Industrial Age and Happy Motoring chugging along for several more decades.
by Kurt Cobb, originally published by Resource Insights | Sep 16, 2012
“Perhaps the most egregious exaggerations are saved for deposits of so-called oil shale. I say “so-called” in this case because oil shale is neither shale, nor does it contain oil. The designation was created to attract investors. Oil shale is, in fact, organic marlstone containing kerogen, a waxy hydrocarbon. Like tar sands, it must be extensively processed to yield what we call oil.
Writers and analysts abound who will cite astronomical figures for oil contained in America’s oil shale deposits which are found in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. An article in The New American claims that there are 3 trillion barrels of oil contained in the oil shale of those three states, nearly twice the known reserves of oil worldwide. Of course, it isn’t oil; it’s kerogen, which the author doesn’t appear to understand. The article cites testimony from a representative of the General Accountability Office, the nonpartisan research arm of the U.S. Congress. The witness says half that number may be “recoverable.” As I am obliged time and again to remind people, recoverable isn’t the same as economically recoverable. It is possible to recover rocks from the Moon. But we would never think of transporting rocks from the Moon to the Earth to make roadway aggregates.
So, just how much oil from oil shale is currently available for purchase on world markets? The answer is none. There are some pilot projects which produce small quantities for research purposes, but that is all. Here it is important to review the difference between “resources” and “reserves.” The writer of the articles above refers to 3 trillion barrels of reserves. But, reserves are what can be produced at today’s prices from known fields using existing technology. By that definition the oil reserves of America’s oil shale fields are exactly zero.
Resources, on the other hand, refer to the amount of something thought to be in the ground based on rather sketchy evidence. By that definition there is still no oil contained in America’s oil shale. What’s thought to be there are 3 trillion barrels of kerogen imbedded in rock, which, as I said, must go through extensive processing before it can become oil. Since the early 1980s oil companies have tried to commercialize the production of oil from this kerogen-rich rock, but have so far been unsuccessful. So complex and difficult is the task of extracting and processing kerogen that the EIA has estimated that even under its high oil price scenario, the United States will produce no more than 140,000 barrels per day of oil from oil shale by 2030. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the country’s projected needs of about 15 million barrels per day.”
The EROI (energy returned on energy invested) of shale oil may not be greater than 1:1. At 1:1 a fuel produces no more energy than it takes to produce the fuel. A society is scraping the bottom of the barrel when it turns to “shale oil” and oil sands, which is also discussed in the artice found at the URL above.