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BLM Publishes Draft Environmental Study for Oil Shale and Tar Sands Resources on Public Lands; Proposes Allocating 1.9M Acres for Development

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Most geologically prospective oil shale resources within the Green River formation basins in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. Click to enlarge.

As required under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has published a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) to guide future management of public lands containing oil shale and tar sands resources in the US.

Under the recommended proposal in the Draft PEIS, the BLM would amend land use plans to allocate approximately 1.9 million acres of public lands in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming for potential commercial oil shale development.

Most US oil shale resources are found in the Green River Formation of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The federally owned portion of this resource is more than 50 times the country’s proven conventional oil reserves and nearly five times the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia.

The PEIS does not authorize any commercial development projects, provide for any leases to be issued, or commit the BLM to any particular course of action in the future. The BLM says that its approach is designed to ensure that oil shale technologies can operate at economic and environmentally acceptable levels before the agency authorizes full-scale commercial leasing on public lands.

Between 305,000 and 1.5 million acres of BLM-managed lands would be excluded from oil shale leasing under the alternatives presented in the Draft PEIS. No leasing would be allowed in Wilderness areas, wilderness study areas, other units of the BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System, or Areas of Critical Environmental Concern that are closed to mineral development, among other areas. The PEIS anticipates that oil shale resources on identified lands would be leased as a solid mineral, and additional site-specific NEPA analysis would be completed on each application before any lease could be issued.

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Comments

revere

Does expending inordinate amounts of GHG-producing energy to yield even more GHG-producing oil really sound like a good idea to anyone at this point?
Take Canada and their tar (oil) sands. The inputs to the process: lots of natural gas and fresh water. The output: bitumen, heavy oily stuff you need to spend even more energy on to make into gasoline.
Given that they are expending far more energy in natural gas than they are extracting in bitumen, why are we even exploring this as an option for the US? Doesn't this very site, today no less, have a lead story making it clear that the LESS you use gasoline in vehicles, the more vehicle-miles you get if the balance is replaced by electric? Rather than this massive study on exploiting tar sands, shouldn't we be doing massive studies on how to get a larger percentage of our engines powered by electricity, since as the study suggests, since this would yield us more vehicle-miles per unit of energy, and therefore per unit of GHG emitted?
Am I missing something here, or is chasing after yet more oil in light of what we now know blind, backward-looking, and self-defeating? Particularly if we have to use a bunch of energy to extract it, which could have directly powered our cars in the first place?
What are we trying to do here: power our cars to get from A to B, or breathe a few more years of life into a well-connected industry?

aym

There is an article here on the alberta tar sands. In it, a link to a university article which studied the feasibility of using nuclear reactors to replace natural gas for the heating of the sands and the production of hydrogen to process the heavy tar sand.

It was calculated that it would need a 300-400MW reactor to process 100000 barrels of oil, ideally placed so that the heat can be ideally used. To reach the figure of 5 million barrels that the US wants Canada to produce from the tar sands would require at least 50 reactors to offset the need for natural gas in the processes.

It's a staggering number to look at. A staggering infrastructure cost for a non-renewable resource. At some point, we have deminishing returns. Especially, since we just need this oil mostly for transportation. Are we just going to blindly trying to develope along the same old paths? Or are we going to try something different?

Stan Peterson

No, we will not do so. But that does not mean it should not be studied and quantified.

Please correct your terminology. There is no longer any concern for "GHGs" except for a remaining concern for but a single GHG, CO2. All other GHGs are now in control, and no longer a problem per the UN's IPCC.

So the remaining concern is purely for CO2. Even there the concern seems increasingly overrated and unfounded; but that is an issue to be resolved by further Science research.

We can and will convert to electrical Ground Transport, but there will remain a irreducible minimum of demand for some hydrocarbon sources. Eventually and at a much reduced scale, we will and should seek the hydrocarbons for our chemical, medicinal, and polymer feed stocks from the most economically efficient source. Eventually, (it could be centuries from now), when it is economic to do so, we will get hydrocarbons from these sources.

But it won't be to simply BURN it.

Rafael Seidl

Oil & gas execs must be salivating at the notion that the Federal Government just might finally allow them to tap into the greatest untapped domestic source of liquid hydrocarbons. Extracting oil from shale is, however, extremely difficult and dirty. It also tends to consume copious quantities of water, which is in relatively short supply in the area.

Despite the beguiling lure of additional domestic supplies, the low hanging fruit is still energy conservation. Various low-cost improvements to new vehicle fuel economy, applied very broadly across model ranges as standard features, are especially effective.

revere

Although I'd like to hope we won't do it, I have read many mainstream and oil-industry articles about the increase-it-as-fast-as-possible approach being taken in Alberta right now with their oil sands. Do the oil companies make decisions differently because they are working in Canada instead of the American West? I seriously doubt it. If they can rake in money there, why not in America?
The report's vague assurances that no leases would be granted unless they can operate at "environmentally acceptable levels" gives me no good feelings either. Someone in power in Canada must have thought that their decimating a vast wilderness and an entire river, for the privilege of losing energy while effectively converting natural gas to low-grade oil, is "operating at environmentally acceptable levels". Does anyone think the environmental movement in the US is stronger than Canada's? Truly? Think they could beat this thing? I live in the US. We can't even get a moratorium on new coal plants down here. In fact, we have to sue our own government to get it to regulate CO2.
This report strikes me as an ominous first step to leases, contracts, and development.
Sure hope I'm wrong.

aym

Addendum

The site is :

http://www.computare.org/Support%20documents/Publications/Nuclear%20oil%20sand.htm

and my initial estimates are far worse. A 450MW nuclear facility can produce enough heat and electricity to process 30000 barrels of syncrude a day. At the present production levels of the oil sands in Canada (1 million barrels/day), that would mean at least 33 reactors. With the estimated amounts that the US wants to get from Canada (5 million barrels/day) that would be at least 167 reactors. Even worse.

We don't have all the GHG controlled. That is a fallacy. How about the stored amounts of methane in permafrost?

Stan Peterson

Yes... What about the stored methane in the Permafrost?

There has been no warming on a scale to force any melting. Having the temperature rise by all of 0.17 degrees in the last 125 years, will not effect the Permafrost when the temperature is 40-60 degrees below zero.

Call me back in 12007 or 22007 AD, if the anthropogenic Global Warmning keeps up for 10,000 or 20,000 more years...

Or are you one of the intolerant, religious, bigoted followers of a bible thumping evangelist, who spouts on about hellfire and damnation from materialism; while privately living the life of a sybarytic, degenerate potentate of old?

I refer of course to the divinity school dropout, masquerading as a prophet of the saintly doctor Roger Revelle. Even as he contradicts everything he learned from the preaching of the saintly Revelle. None the less, he preaches that he learned everything he knows from the prophet Revelle, who he then contradicts in every detail, for his own revelation. And then demands you turn off your brain, and take it on pure faith, in behalf of the allmighty god, Gaia...

sjc

I would rather have the Canadians pipe the natural gas to the U.S. to power cars and trucks cleanly and leave the tar sands there for any future use that they may have. The idea of LNG in ocean going tankers is very expensive and might not be necessary if the NG were not being used for the tar sands. If investors need a higher price for NG, then lets consider than.

It does not cost all that much to convert modern vehicles to NG or dual fuel. It makes more sense to me to use the NG for vehicle fuel rather than use it to process the tar sands.

Harvey D

sjc

Do you know the total energy currently used to produce a single gallon of regular gasoline from the Alberta tar sands?

Is it much more than the gasoline's 114 000 BTU?

Do you know the total GHG (CO2 etc) currently created to produce a single gallon of gasoline from the same tar sands?

If we add the known CO2 created when burning one gallon of gasoline with our gas guzzlers, the total tar sands/wheels GHG for 100 million gas guzzlers could indeed do a lot of damage.

Can the planet afford to raise extraction from Alberta tar sands to 5 + million barrels a day for an extended period?

It is doubtful that the people living down stream would like it.

People living down wind (mid-west USA) may not like it either.

Add oil extraction from shales to the equation and see what you could get.

Andrey

From Wiki:

‘’Oil sands represents as much as 2/3 of the world's total petroleum resource, with at least 1.7 trillion barrels (270 km³) in the Canadian Athabasca Oil Sands and perhaps 235 billion barrels of extra heavy crude in the Venezuelan Orinoco tar sands [1], compared to 1.75 trillion barrels (278 km³) of conventional oil worldwide, most of it in Saudi Arabia. This is only the remnant of vast petroleum deposits which once totaled as much as 18 trillion barrels (2,100 km³), most of which has escaped or been destroyed by bacteria over the eons.’’

First, I would be delighted to know how many dinosaurs should be buried to produce 2100 cubic kilometers (2000 billion tons) of oil in one spot.

Second, would be nice to know why ‘’escaped’’ and biologically ‘’destroyed’’ into CO2 amount of oil from Athabasca, roughly 200 times more than was combusted by humankind in 20 century did not contaminate Canada biosphere into oblivion and did not cause global climate catastrophe.

Third, water used in extraction of tar sand oil is not sent into parallel universe, it is discharged on the spot. The real concern is how to make this discharged water as clean as at intake, no matter the money used.

Forth, do anyone is ready to foot the bill to compensate Albertians (and they have 1.6 times higher per person income than the rest of Canada) for lost revenue and employment income, take aside that same amount of money will go into coffers of terrorist supporters?


sjc

I do not know how many BTUs of NG are required to make one gallon of gasoline from tar sands, but it would be good to know.

If gasoline sells for $2.70 per gallon wholesale and NG sells for $.71 per therm wholesale, I guess they think that it is cost effective to make gasoline from tar sands using NG.

aym

@Stan,
quote all the figures from the other BS sources you like Stan and try to say what others have reasoned is because they don't think. What a load. I suggest you look at your own reasons for supporting your position and scrutinize them objectively.

The artic is warming faster than a lot of modeling has predicted.

http://www.sanfranciscosentinel.com/?p=5740

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2005/aug/11/science.climatechange1

http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&q=permafrost+melting+rate&meta=

With all of this, you quote figures like they were and are some proof of your position. Try looking at something less partisen to shore up your already made up mind.

WOW alot of bad info floating in here.

The old nuke plant "study" was flawed ri high heck

1 It doesnt use a PLANT it uses a single reactor core.

2 It uses a 40 year old design.

3 It uses old figures for how much heat is currently used to extract the oil.

They have improved the process and nuke reactors have vastly improved.

A single chinese designed PLANT can produce5.6 gw of power from 8 700 mw reactors.One such plant could process likely 2.5 or more million barrels a day. It would also cut ghg emmissions more then exterminating all of great britan seden and switzerland combined would. And mske more money then microsoft whiloe doing so.

aym

Granted the study is from 1999, but it doesn't invalidate the overall limitations.

The article uses Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD), which is still the latest method for production today. There are other methods but they are experimental still. In the last 9 years, I'm sure that there has been efficiencies in the various stages of processing the sands to reduce energy use, but i doubt there has been major changes to the amount since 1999 (ie less than twice).

Only since the recent push to reduce GHG's has there been a major effort to reduce emmissions. The projected reduction is from 1.0 - 1.25 GJ of natural gas /barrel to 0.7 by 2015. What is was in 1999, you try to find it?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_sands#Extraction_process

The total output of both heat and electricity is used on multiple stages in a very tight locality to maximize total efficiency. Since even the heat is used, the efficiency is very high, even with an older nuclear plant. The study takes into account the CANDU-9, which is a fairly recent design, and probably looked into the ACR.

But in any case, it is the output of heat as well as electricity which is used and therefore weakens the case that newer reactors would be more efficient in the processing of the tar sands although newer designs would probably be cheaper and faster to build but that was not the question.

Building a huge plant with multiple reactors at a single location means very little when the limitation is transfering the heat produced. In the study, there is a comparison between a CANDU-3 and a CANDU-9. Even though the CANDU-9 has about 3 times the output capacity, it can only be used to process twice as much oil.

To maximize the plant to use for the tar sands, requires smaller plants with single cores in multiple locations. Althouth multiple core plants would be cheaper to build, they would be of less use in the production of oil than single core ones. Just another strike. It also doesn't invalidate the huge number of plants required to process 5 million barrels/day.

wintermane

Well if thats what the needed why wouldnt they use a portable reactor and just move it to the next location? Doesnt realy matter anyway as the sands are worth zillions they will force a way.

aym

Hmm, a CANDU-3 generates around 300 MW. Portable, it ain't. It is a fair sized piece of whatever you want to call it. Best to use it for multiple extraction methods over it's lifetime although it would decrease the optimal numbers and increase the number/size of the reactors needed. And this is just for displacing the use of natural gas. Would rather have an electric car and directly use the power than jump through all these hoops.

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