1.2 Trillion barrels of oil in America? Why economically colonize the Third World?

Why hasn’t the U.S. government yet turned to the Green River Formation for oil yet, especially given such tumultuous times. Of the 2 trillion barrels of provable oil dispersed throughout the sandstone there, 0.8-1.2 trillion are physically recoverable (and economically viable. To put that in perspective, the Saudis have “only” a bit more than a quarter-trillion barrels in reserve. If it’s part of the secret U.S. plot to rule the world through controlling the world’s oil, where we’ve failed in Iraq we’ve certainly held our ground quite beautifully in this instance, because I’ve read not one mainstream media article on this absolutely groundbreaking bit of information.
I suppose that, in essence, my question is: Why the widespread ignorance of this on the part of the, well, near-entirety of the populace? Why aren’t Exxon-Mobil and BP singing in glee from the proverbial rooftops? Heck, why do we still have to play nice with belligerent Venezuelan despots and crazed mullahs for soppy Sweet Crude?

Because it’s not economically viable. At least, not yet. According to Argonne National Labs, it costs over $60 per barrel just to extract it from the ground. Even at market prices of $70 per barrel, it’s still cheaper to buy petroleum on the world markets. I’ll leave it to the resident fossil fuel experts to explain how much higher oil would have to rise – and how long it would have to stay there – (or how the costs of oil shale extraction could fall) for it to be viable.

The oil in the Green River Formation is in the form of oil shale…that means that it’s oil trapped in sedimentary rock. We can extract the oil by mining the rock and then heating it (the technical term is “retorting”), and seperating the oil that comes out.

The problem is, we don’t have the technology to do that on a large scale, and being the first to develop the technology, and build the neccesary equipment will be expensive, and no one wants to shoulder that expense until it’s neccesary.

Shell is trying a cheaper method to extract oil from oil shale, but it will be 20-30 years before their able to engage in large scale production.

Here’s a Rand Commission report, in PDF, about the potentials and cost of oil shale:

I didn’t take into account the relatively exhorbitant cost of the actual process of extracting the oil from the shale layers. And that is a good source, I’ve read through some of it.

But what I still don’t understand is that, if Canada, with its famously large oil sands can profitably extract their trapped oil, why can’t we find a way? I mean, 20-30 years? We invented the atomic bomb in a handful of years with Fermi and a few other top scientists. It just sounds like the oil companies don’t want cheap and plentiful oil (otherwise, their profit margins wouldn’t be so wide). They should take their obscene dozens of billions in profits they accur every year and, I’m sure, develop a way to profitably extract this untapped oil.

Then again, maybe this idea is a bit too convoluted. Perhaps we really should just start transitioning from oil to the renewable energy sources, rather than exacerbating global warming even more.

Given the continued political comments by the OP, let’s put this in Great Debates. Factual answers are still possible there.

Moved from GQ. samclem

I think a description of the different geologic structures is in order, comparing the Canadian rock strata with that of America’s Green River Formation. There may be several justifiable reasons why it is easier to extract oil using current technology based on rock strata alone, when comparing Canadian and American deposits.

The other issue is a combined economic and political game by the oil companies themselves, and the connection with government. This latter comment is not an attack upon the current administration and the Reublicans in power today. Rather, the ties with big oil and government are long and deep. Why give up a gravey train early?

Isn’t there a limitation of refining capacity in the US at the moment?

This is actually not a bad idea. If the US hadn’t pumped up all the easily recovered oil years ago, we’d be sitting on plenty now. So if you’re a long term thinker, you’d want to leave the hydrocarbons in your own ground and pump it from your neighbors. Unfortunately, the US is ruled by people who do not worry about 10 years into the future, let alone 100.

My former boss worked on the first attempt to extract oil from the Green River Formation, back in the 1970s. He said that environmental factors were a much bigger problem than simple economics:

  • Refining uses a lot of water. The Colorado River basin already demands a huge amount of water, and supplies are scarce.

  • Spent shale disposal. According to the Rand report, the process used to extract petroleum actually expands the volume of the shale by 15% - 25% (it looks like that problem hasn’t been solved in 25 years.) My boss said the chief engineer on the project once summed up the problem by saying “You see that valley down there? Parking lot.”

You make it seem easy, but tar-sand extraction is laborious, it takes place in a cold harsh environment and it requires ridiculous amounts of energy and water. I’m hoping the plans to build a CANDU reactor in the area go through. It’ll cost a billion or so up front, but all the clean on-site energy should move Canada into the top tier of oil producers.

That’s my ideal for the next 30 years, during which cars and electrical appliances gradually become more efficient, letting energy demand level off even as the economies of North America continue to expand. Then a changeover to controlled fusion, and maybe I’ll finally get that damn flying car they’ve been promising us.

Does this have anything to do with all the “domestic oil” spam I’ve been seeing this past week?

Nope. You will frequently hear a lot of nonsense about the low number of refineries. That has almost nothing to do with capacity. The current refineries are always increasing their capacity. (Geographic distribution is not good though and this causes some regional variations in price.)

It’s a lot like complaining about how many domestic car plants there are now compared to 60 years ago. We’re making a lot more cars now. That’s the way businesses work.

In cases like in the midwest “shortage” of 2000, it was traced to a deliberate restriction on production to drive up prices (and presumably alter the outcome of the election). Very similar to the “energy crisis” in California that Enron and friends created.

We do import products from foreign refineries. If we produced more domestic oil we would need to increase the current capacity. Not a big problem at all.

I’m not quite sure what you’re referring to. Do you mean that you’ve been receiving e-mails from people impolitely soliciting your “investment” (not through the proper channel of a stock investor, of course) in some company (or possibly in land there)? If that’s the case, I haven’t been getting any of that though spam e-mail. However, I have seen several very long info/ads on webpages which piqued my interest.

Also, I’ve come to think that the government and the oil companies are saving our the shale oil as a “get out of jail (or in this case, economic catastophy) free” card.

And kunilou, when the crude oil reserves aren’t easily extractable anymore, we, tragically, won’t be much too concerned about the environmental effects of producing the shale oil. I wish it were otherwise, but this is the way it looks like things might pan out in the next 30 to 50 years or so, because I don’t believe we’ll really be concerned about seriously developing alternative energy until its too late (unless, of course, we [re]elect Gore in 2008 – and I don’t even like most Democrats (or Republicans)). Additionally, I wasn’t initially thinking about the dire envrionmental effects of such oil extraction. All I saw were the phrases “1.2 trillion barrels of oil” and “in America” in the same sentence, and the non-reptilian portions of my brain were commandeered. :slight_smile:

This is neither as paranoid nor as sinister as it sounds. “Use up all the cheap oil first” may in fact be a sound, if rather cynical, strategy.

Remember that people have been looking into energy independence since the OPEC oiil shocks of the 1970s. Between conservation, new technologies and alternate fossil fuels, a large number of options have been worked out on paper. Pretty good estimates of the cost of implementing these alternatives have probably been worked out well in advance. In addition, untold numbers of man hours have been devoted to studying the relationship between imported petroleum, the domestic and global economies, and US strategic position.

In all probability, the conclusion of the experts and the think tanks is this: That while it sucks to be dependent on Middle Eastern oil, every alternative at this time would amount to cutting off our nose to spite our face. Let’s say for hypothetical example that the US by law could not import any foreign oil, and simply had to pay the consequences. Total energy indepencence is achieved at the cost of making the US poorer and less competitive. By reducing the global demand for foreign oil however, we would simply make oil that much cheaper for all our economic (Japan, Europe) and strategic (China) competitors.

Alternate energy will come about when the pragmatic, cold calculations of wealth and power determine that foreign oil literally isn’t worth it anymore. Till then, we’ll see lots of feasibility plans being studied then filed away for future reference.

Doesn’t the U.S. get most of its oil from Canada?

No. They are currently the number 1 supplier though. http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil_gas/petroleum/data_publications/company_level_imports/current/import.html