The future of oil: the choice is clear
December 3, 2010
Re: “GAO says more research needed on oil shale, water” – Nov. 29, 2010
It is encouraging to see the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommending that federal agencies take a more proactive approach to oil shale. Oil shale represents a massive domestic energy resource. We should continue working to see if we can produce it economically and responsibly.
However, this AP story misses a key point in – namely, that we likely have enough water to begin a small commercial oil shale industry right now, if we choose to use some of our water for energy production. This is a key point, because we won’t fully understand the water issue until we begin small-scale commercial development, including work on federal lands where the richest oil shale deposits are located.
Another key point many people choose to ignore is that large-scale commercial development of oil shale will not occur any time soon. Some people discuss oil shale in highly exaggerated terms, using decades-old water use estimates and talking as though a massive oil shale industry with massive water needs will pop-up tomorrow. This simply cannot – and should not – happen. A market-driven industry will start small and grow slowly in the coming decades. As the industry advances, we’ll see, first-hand, the impacts to water. During this time, we can develop new water-saving technologies and constantly reassess the costs and benefits of oil shale production.
A final key point many people don’t understand is that – like it or not – the world will continue to use oil for decades to come to fuel cars, trucks, planes, and ships and to produce plastics, medicines, asphalt, clothing, chemicals, detergents, etc. Oil demand will increase, despite the development of new energy technologies, fuel economy standards, and conservation. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects U.S. oil demand will increase 14 percent by 2035. China and India’s oil demand will increase 117 percent by 2035! Cars and trucks will be smaller and more energy efficient. But, there will simply be a whole more of them on the road.
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Conventional oil is becoming more and more difficult and expensive to produce. We will need to turn to unconventional sources of oil – perhaps including oil shale – if we are to meet future demand. Otherwise, we will endure shortages and dizzying increases in energy prices.
With these realities in mind, the choice is very clear. Shall we continue researching and innovating to see if we can develop our massive domestic oil shale resources – and use some of our available water? Or, shall we continue down the current road of increasing prices, scarcity, and dependence on foreign countries to produce our energy for us?
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