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LQD: Europeans to engage foolishly in shale oil?

by asdf Sun Feb 22nd, 2009 at 06:23:04 PM EST

Interesting article in the newspaper today:

With one eye cast toward home, giant European energy companies are investing billions in U.S. natural-gas and oil fields where huge, hard-to-get reserves have been unlocked with new drilling technology.

At least three European oil and gas giants are developing or have bought interests in oil and gas shale projects in the U.S. -- Norwegian oil company StatoilHydro, the U.S. unit of British oil company BP Plc and the French company Total.

StatoilHydro and BP have agreed in recent months to pay billions of dollars for stakes in shale gas projects from the top U.S. producer of gas, Chesapeake Energy. Total has bought a 50 percent stake in a U.S. company exploring for oil shale in the Rocky Mountains.


Shale gas, maybe. Shale "oil?" More like snake oil.

First, there's tons of it. Huge gigantic spreads of desert mountains with shale "oil" deposits thousands of meters thick. Energy reserves so gigantic that the U.S. Navy obtained rights to big chunks of it in the early 1900s as a long-range strategy for powering ships. (Later discarded in favor of nuclear power.)

But there's a problem: You can't have it. A common argument is that it costs $X to get a barrel of oil out of "oil" shale, and that if the price of oil just gets above $X then it will be economical. But it doesn't work that way, because the cost of extraction goes up in line with the cost of oil. So the right way to evaluate it is to look at the thermodynamic cost:benefit ratio, and it's not good.

Plus, there's no water here, and you need it for the extraction process. Plus, there's no electricity here. Although there's lots of wind, so we could build a huge wind energy system to supply the shale "oil" industry so they can extract the energy and sell it to us at a higher rate than the wind energy...  ???

This has been discussed to death already, for example: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3969

But in any case, t looks like the European energy companies are in such a panic about their supplies that they are willing to swallow empty sales pitches from the U.S.

Or, maybe...wait, never mind, keep on sending them Euros over here! We need them!

Hansen:  tar sands project poses a planetary threat

The Canadian press is full of speculation that the Canadian government will push for special treatment and protections from global warming regulation of its fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions: the tar sands oil development in Alberta, where much of Canada's oil is derived. Such protection would be disastrous for life on our planet.

The tar sands of Canada constitute one of our planet's greatest threats. They are a double-barrelled threat. First, producing oil from tar sands emits two-to-three times the global warming pollution of conventional oil. But the process also diminishes one of the best carbon-reduction tools on the planet: Canada's Boreal Forest.

This forest plays a key role in the global carbon equation by serving as a major storehouse for terrestrial carbon – indeed, it is believed to store more carbon per hectare than any other ecosystem on Earth. When this pristine forest is strip mined for tar sands development, much of its stored carbon is lost. Canada's Boreal Forest is also the reservoir for a large fraction of North America's clean, fresh water, home to some five billion migratory birds, and some of largest remaining populations of caribou, moose, bear and wolves on the planet.

As a climate scientist, I am focused on what levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide can be considered safe. In the past few years, based on increasingly detailed information about the history of the Earth and observations of ongoing climate change, a startling conclusion has become apparent. The safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is no more than 350 parts per million (ppm), if we wish the diversity of other species on the planet to survive – as well as "amenities" that humans require, such as fresh water supplies, stable coastlines and a normal degree of extreme weather events.

Unfortunately, because of our fossil fuel use, our planet is already at 385 ppm. It is still practical, with improved agricultural and forestry practices to get future carbon dioxide levels below 350 ppm, provided we phase out emissions from the largest source, coal, in coming decades. It is a tough challenge to develop the needed renewable energies of the future, but it is doable. Together with improved energy efficiency we can move to the clean world of the future, beyond fossil fuels.

So an underlying fact has become crystal clear. The horrendously carbon-intensive unconventional fossil fuels, tar shale in the US and tar sands in Canada, cannot be developed. The carbon emissions from tar shale and tar sands would initiate a continual unfolding of climate disasters over the course of this century. We would be miserable stewards of creation. We would rob our own children and grandchildren.

And this is what the Europeans are rushing to invest in?  Surely this fit the definition of "a criminal enterprise", investment in which makes one an accessory to the crime?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Feb 23rd, 2009 at 02:33:47 AM EST
do the designers of dystopias also sideline in horror flick scripting?

between nukes (kinder, gentler, natch), shale oil, and mountaintop removal for ever-so-tiny-bit-maybe-hopefully-cleaner coal, the scenario looks like a japanese comic hell.


'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Feb 23rd, 2009 at 05:40:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
but the Western oil majors will invest anywhere they can, right now, because they have access to very little, and are running out of reserves. They are small bit playrs compared to the National Oil Cos of the countries with reserves.

So if it's legal in the US or Canada to go for the tar stuffs, they'll go for that, despite the poor prospects. They are that desperate.

But it's legal - the problem is not the oil companies, it's the regulations and the governments that puts them in place.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Feb 23rd, 2009 at 11:56:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am beginning to wonder a little about that.  (the problem being not the corporadoes but the lack of laws).

way back when, there were no laws against slavery;  did that mean that there was nothing wrong with slavery until there were -- presto! -- laws agin it?  that there was nothing wrong with those who invested in slave trading, carried out slave trading, inflicted all that immeasurable human misery, just because there was not a law on the books?

in other words and in today's case, isn't there something wrong with people who deliberately seek personal profit by activities that they know, that everybody knows, to be threatening to human survival on a planetary scale?  is "desperation" a justification?  desperate for another vacation home, a new Mercedes?  what can "desperation" mean for the CEOs, BODs and high level decision making managers in these corps who already have more than enough money to live on for the rest of several affluent human lifetimes?

admittedly they are trapped in a workplace culture that normalises greed, myopia, and crime.  and workplace culture can be very powerful in dulling conscience and wits.  but still one would hope for a flicker of survival instinct, or even (gasp) a moral qualm or two, to suggest that investing in a horror -- and a futile tragic farce -- like the tar and shale sands extraction is a Very Bad Idea?  a suicide/murder pact whose scale makes money itself, at the end of the day, completely meaningless (what is money worth without the civilisation whose consensus is its value)?

how can they sleep at night?

[hmmmm, well, how can any of us?]

OK, diving back into the engine room with a sense of profound and uneasy irony...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Feb 23rd, 2009 at 12:12:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
legal = moral = good

So as long as you're not caught, with no legal recourse, as having done something illegal, you're good. See Berlusconi, Cheney, etc...

And, very importantly, it's the letter of the lw that matters, not the spirit of the law. And monay cna usefully help you navigate the letter of the law againt underfunded public prosecutors...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Feb 23rd, 2009 at 03:11:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here in Utah we've been waiting since, oh, about the Bare-Fang Era for oil shale to become economically viable.  Every time the price of oil seems to go up enough, the cost of production goes up just that much more.  I've watched this cycle play out four or five times, and each time the folks who've bet on oil shale have lost their shirts, their shorts, and everything else.  I figure someone will discover the breakthrough that makes oil shale economical the same day someone else builds a desktop cold fusion reactor.
by rifek on Thu Feb 26th, 2009 at 12:26:57 AM EST

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