Oil Shale

Ideas and Issues Personal Writings

Miami I learned from Nicco (see last blog) that no one tries to raise money on the web on the weekend, because fewer people are reading. This lets me indulge myself by sharing some observations on oil shale, while no one is looking. This is a little like a secret admission. I both know a little about oil shale and care about oil shale in an almost intimate way. Not so much about what it is as where it is.

Simply put the oil is trapped in the rock and the engineering problem is how to get it out. The financial problem is how to get it out without bankrupting some of the biggest oil companies in the world like Chevron and Shell. The environmental problem is how to make sure anything is left standing after the extraction.

My family lived for five years and my brother was actually born on the western slope of Colorado in the very heart of oil shale heaven in Rangely near the intersection of Utah, Wyoming (where I was born), and Colorado. This is not the classic riparian, mountain environment that many associate with the Colorado of the Rockies. This is a rougher cut, low slung, and craggy beauty of oil and mineral streaked anticlines and inclines with short grass, mesquite, cattle fence, and nothing much else. In fact there is a huge amount of nothing in oil shale country.

I make a habit of swinging by Rangely whenever I have a good excuse. Forcng the kids while camping to see the old roots — a great excuse! Looking to get away from interstate was a fair excuse. Driving a car from San Francisco to New Orleans that I bought from a friend (Drummond Pike in fact) seemed like a good excuse in the late 1970’s. I stayed in an oil field boarding house in Rangely in the late 1970’s almost 30 years ago then. I sat in the back at a city council meeting and listened to their grand plans of a Rangely that would not be a couple of thousand people but have a population of 20,000 folks and where they would put them all because of oil shale exploration. The boom was caused by soaring prices of oil by the barrel during the energy crises of that time. The price fell and so did the boom.

Now the price is up — way up! — so I have been wondering when the boom would begin again. This time there is less of an argument about scarcity. It’s like global warming. We will run out. Maybe it will not be tomorrow, but within the range of the imagination. There are 80 billion barrels of oil stuck in oil shale, so as the vanishing point comes closer, the push to extract what is there will increase.

Rangely, Colorado