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Queensland Premier Puts 20-Year Moratorium on Oil Shale Development

Queensland (Australia) Premier Anna Bligh has placed a 20-year moratorium on the development of oil shale in the state. The announcement immediately blocks the further development of a planned demonstration plant over the McFarlane oil shale deposit in the Whitsunday region. Bligh said she would not allow the environment to be put at risk while the technology for extraction of the resource was still not proven.

Currently only one lease exists to mine oil shale, in Gladstone. The Australian state will permit no new oil shale mines, and the state government will begin a two-year review to determine if oil shale deposits can be used in an environmentally acceptable way. The Premier said the decision was effective immediately and would be legislated in the coming months.

Our environment must come first. That’s why we are putting a 20-year moratorium on all mining activities, bulk sampling and exploration over the McFarlane deposit in the Whitsunday region. This stops immediate plans to dig up approximately 400,000 tonnes of rock for resource testing from this world famous landscape.

While the development of shale oil has potential as an energy source we will not allow it until we can be assured that it can be extracted and processed without harming the environment. This is particularly the case for the McFarlane deposit—15 kilometers south of Proserpine—which is located right on the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.

—Premier Anna Bligh

The 400,000-tonne project now blocked was part of an assessment by Queensland Energy Resources (QER) of the commercial viability of a proposed demonstration plant at McFarlane. QER also owns the Stuart shale oil processing plant at Gladstone, which it decided to decommission in 2004 after acquiring the site from Southern Pacific Petroleum.

Earlier in August, QER announced its selection of Paraho II technology to develop its shale oil deposits rather than the older Alberta-Taciuk Processor (ATP) used in the Stuart demonstration plant. QER had decided the ATP could not be scaled up sufficiently, whereas it believes the Paraho II technology can be.

The Paraho Oil Shale Project was a privately financed program launched in the 1970s in the US to prove the Paraho retorting process and hardware on oil shale at Anvil Points, Colorado.

Oil shale refers to sedimentary rocks that contain solid combustible organic matter called kerogen. Under a heating process, the kerogen can be decomposed to release hydrocarbons that can be captured to produce synthetic crude oil and combustible gas. Queensland has approximately 90% of Australia’s known shale oil reserves and the vast bulk are located between Bundaberg and Proserpine. Australia has shale oil reserves in Queensland estimated as high as 30 billion barrels.

Minister for Mines and Energy Geoff Wilson, said small-scale demonstration plants using shale oil from the Stuart resource at Gladstone would still be allowed but only if companies can gain licences and prove their technology passes the strictest environmental standards.

There are existing mining tenures over the Gladstone shale deposit already and those rights will remain in effect. The owner of the lease at Gladstone is currently examining the commercial viability of a demonstration plant using new shale oil processing technology.

Over the next 2 years, the government will review the technology and if it stacks up economically, technologically and environmentally we will work with industry to see if it could have a broader application further down the track. If the objectives of commercial feasibility and environmental acceptance can be met Queensland could eventually become a major producer of non-conventional oil to help meet national and international demand.

—Geoff Wilson

Comments

HarveyD

Coming from Australia, it is a real surprise. Many believed that they would follow Alberta.

It is wise to waite for the arrival of better, cleaner extraction methods.

Jer

Interesting. How much revenue lost? How many jobs unfilled? How many technicians leave? How much does the price of oil go up due to new source restrictions? How do they get new 'extraction' methods without implementing and testing - to put a moratorium on, means no research no experimentation. The wait-and-see what everyone else does usually leads to heavy licensing fees from foreign corps.
Heavy-handed, unsophisticated, black-and-white-type decisions like this always have losers.
I am surprised that Australia could 'afford' to give up such a lucrative business.

T2

This is not something I claim any expertise in but it made the national news here in Canada recently.
About a dozen large fresh water lakes have been rezoned as tailing ponds by the Canadian Govt thru' an order-in-cabinet. Supposedly the oil industry has been made to put up funds for rehabilitating ( whatever the word is ) them after all the oil has been extracted.
Alberta - to become the sacrificial Province ?
T2

Anne

@jer:

How much revenue lost? How many jobs unfilled? How many technicians leave? How much does the price of oil go up due to new source restrictions?

That is 20th century thinking. 21st century reality is not like that anymore.

JMartin

@jer:
How much revenue lost? How many jobs unfilled? How many technicians leave? How much does the price of oil go up due to new source restrictions?

Looks like you are doing some black and white thinking of your own -- measuring value only in short-term dollars, not long-term costs (dollars and lives). Let's develop the technology first.

Aussie

The fact that is overlooked is that Queensland is one of the world's largest coal exporters and is about to build another loading terminal for coal ships. They will also build what I believe is a world first liquefaction plant for coal seam methane, not strictly 'LNG' but 'LCSM'. Experiments are also underway to make a kind of coal-to-liquids from the producer gas created by underground coal gasification.

So believe me they are doing just about everything possible to turn landlocked carbon in atmospheric CO2. In fact coal exports from Queensland and neighbouring NSW generate about 600 megatonnes a year of CO2, the same as Australia's entire domestic emissions. Yet coal exports will be excluded from the carbon trading scheme starting 2010. So concern over oil shale emissions is blatant hypocrisy.

Treehugger

Jer

That is san interesting question indeed, "How much revenue lost" there is a point where development can become anti-economic indeed, and more and more experts who work on sustainable development point out that a lot of investments are anti-economic because non sutainable. Let me put it this way, a development is considered anti-economic when the cost the adverse effects it induces is higher than the wealth it generates. Quite simple in principle but somtimes difficult to clearly evaluate. In the present case it was unclear if the benefit of extracting these duty oil shales wouldn't be offset by the environmental costs that would have been generated, then better postpone it a the benefit of thee doubt rather than take the risk. The investment can be spend on more environmentally friendly development like solar (which is quite abundant in Australia), wind, waves, geothermal, nuclear, biomass (Australia has lands). it would creates a lot of enployment as well maybe more than oilshale extraction.

Arabacash

This is fantastic! Let the other countries "destroy" the environment and buy from them. I feel better now as well. It's their Earth that gets "destroyed," not ours, right?

CrappingCrow

Hypocrisy: "Our environment must come first". This is from the same Premier Anna Bligh who banned motorised bicycles recently in one fell swoop with no public debate, consultation or warning. Where was her "environment must come first" then? Even a chunder head knows these low powered machines are putting the environment first, getting cars off the road, helping the poor, and getting fatties to lose weight. Maybe we should have a government policy for weight loss in Australia too? Oops... we already do! But like Premier Bligh's "Our environment must come first", a vote winning sound bite justifying government dictate is more important than intelligent policy.

And no mention of years of oil shale investment money lost; but hey, who gives a damn about that? Not Anna Bligh, after all... "Our environment must come first".

This woman is just down right ignorant of the oil/energy crises AND the environment. She wants to have it all ways, as most politicians do, but wins in none. Come on Bligh, what's it gonna be? More oil shale and coal, or no oil shale, and less coal... with more motorised bicycles?


Anna Bligh

Save the Earth! Go to DieOff.org for more info. You owe it to the planet. Voluntary euthanasia, when you've got nothing better to do, eh mate?

ToppaTom

I do like the sound of this. I do not know the merits of the McFarlane/Whitsunday project except whatv I see here but it sounds like they just “don’t want to know” what the assessment/demonstration will show.
Unable or unwilling to understand the scientific nuances, Anna Bligh declares a 20 year moratorium.
I assume QER is a private organization. The demonstration by QER may be more than it sounds but based on this article I suspect the opponents think 400,000 tonnes of rock is colossal. 400,000 tonnes of rock is about 600’ wide by 500’ long by 30‘ deep, maybe like a freeway cloverleaf.
As far as the idea that “The investment can be spend on more environmentally friendly development” goes, that’s like prohibiting us from purchasing Priuses saying “The investments can be spend on more economically sensible transportation” That’s 19th century thinking.


John Taylor

This is a start at a greener political face. Ending the worse excesses of the fossil fuel industry by preventing known disasters from getting started is the least and most minimal contribution to our environment.
But even at least, it is a help.

arnold

Talk about stirring the possums.

Jer

As one who classifies himself as way-way-left (i don't believe people should be allowed to own a business, or own land in a conserved area), I think that it is important to ask the 'financial' questions as part of a 'complete' discussion. Simply stating the 'environment first' and all else can 'prove' its validity -- leads to a polarizing of the debate which leads to people entrenching themselves which leads to people being unable to empathize with any other view but their own. We have to be more sophisticated than that. Of course, I play the devil's advocate - challenging those who I don't think have thought their position through (the Australian Minister specifically from this article) -or- are relying on emotions or personal ethics to shape their argument -- that way lies vagueness, uncertainty, conflict, and indecision. Better to get the enviros to prove that the world would be better place for both humanity (in the modern money-driven state that it is in) and all else -- and -- Better to get business to prove they are considering the future of the people, site, and the culture that is being disrupted (which can actually be put in money terms now with life-cycle assessment and nature's ability to provide services, in financial terms)

((its not about sitting on the fence - its about tearing it down))

Jer

A truly excellent article on a topic related to this one:

www.economist.com/daily/columns/greenview/displayStory.cfm?story_id=11995791

omegaman66

Wow... I just got finished talking to the trees outside and they are pissed off at this decision.

Andrew

Jer,

Are you suggesting we all want the same thing. But somehow we are not understanding the others persons feelings?

Generally in these forums, there's a clear disagreement on the best path forward. These are the basic battle lines.

Side A)Try to maintain economic growth and prosperity using existing infrastructure (Mainly fossil fuel). Don't worry too much about long term impacts of CO2 emmisions and climate change. We will move to renewables in good time... when the black stuff runs out.

vs:

Side B)Reduce fossil fuel CO2 emmissions as fast as possible. Ramp up alternative energy sources as fast as possible. Don't worry too much about short term economic disruption... The economic issues will get resolved along the way.

We are all affected by the path chosen. I reckon we should state our positions clearly... Polarized or not.

Which camp are you in?

Quote: "You're either with us or against us" GWB :)

Sulleny

Even in the near term, the Great Barrier Reef is far more valuable than the shale. And they have an extraordinary coastline, abundant biomass, and new energy: seawater.

Henry Gibson

There is plenty of money in the hands of speculators and oil companies; this can fund many "environmental" organizations and lobbysts to oppose any developments of alternate sources of liquid fuels to supplant part of the oil used.

A moratorium for longer than an office term should be reason for expulsion of a public official.

It is well known that crude oil has not been a free market that responds to demands for several decades. This action proves the point. This government has forbidden the production of crude oil from oil shale. This action is identical in its effect on crude prices as a price increase or production limit by Russia would be. Both actions encourage speculators.

No person, company or country should be allowed to buy crude-oil or its products who does not take actual delivery at some point of time. If you are an airline you make make futures contracts for jet fuel but not for crude oil. Only if the airline goes out of business can the fuel be sold to another party. Refiners may have futures contracts for crude oil. They also may sell the oil only if their refineries are closed permanently. Not even tanker companies should be allowed to buy oil futures or oil for sale. No private individual may bid for, buy or sell oil futures or sell crude oil except from a well on his own property.

The vast sums made as profits, extorted from the poor of the world, have fed an unlimited upward spiral of prices allowed by government actions and inactions such as done by the government mentioned. At this point of time any actions, by any government or government officials that could cause the further increase of the price of oil, now far above the production costs, are unwarrented taxes upon their constituants and the general population of the world.

This action further increases the support for the idea that the producers of carbon containing energy should be limited and taxed, not the consumers, under a protocol similar to the Kyoto agreement. Australia is one of the largest shippers of both coal and uranium and it does not have a single nuclear power plant. What is Queensland's contribution to free CO2. Just because the coal was burnt in China does not logically free Queensland of responsibility of contributing to global CO2. The CO2 does not stay in China.

The high prices of oil have caused the demise of countless persons and greatly denuded vast tracks of forests and other plants for substitute fuels. Haiti has lost all but 3% of its forests; and its peoples eat mud, not even sawdust.

If this Premier were actually intent on maintaining the environment, She would have mandated the immediate purchase of enough CANDU reactors from Canada to supply all of the power of Queensland and much of the heat. Even the burning of natural gas releases carbon. She would have also mandated the use of Plug-in-Hybrid cars.

Since the beginning of life on earth, in order to continue to live, every life form, including humans, has ingested and retained radio-active potassium.

All animals, including humans, are a source of radio-active exposure to those around them. Because it is built into every cell, this built in radio-activity has a chance to cause far greater effect on the body than external sources. About twelve out of every million potassium atoms inside or outside the body can disintegrate any moment, but many wait for a few billion years. All life forms ingest other active elements including uranium.

If humans can survive with so much internal radiation, they can and do survive with much more external radiation. The earth, the sun and the universe is the source of much natural radio-activity. Living at high altitudes substantially increases radio-active exposure, and living near certain minerals also does.

All soil contains radio-active elements. The general fear of radio-activity is unjustifiable by statistics. Cars and stairs are thousands of times more dangerous. Fewer than one hundred people were killed directly by Chernobyl. Any additional cancer cases actually caused by radiation spread by the blast cannot be separated from the many times more natural cancer cases.

No human created danger can statistically compete with microscopic life forms or volcanoes or earthquakes or ocean storms.

All of the used nuclear fuel rods ever produced would probably not fill the largest oil tanker afloat, but they might sink it anyway. Nuclear fuel is much heavier than oil. The chlorine in the sea water would likely prevent a chain reaction. The fear and animosity against used fuel rods is also statistically unsupportable; bathtubs are far more dangerous. The spent fuel bundles can be highly cheaply and safely disposed of by enclosing them into the tip of a pile and driving the tip of the pile a hundred feet deep in deep ocean mud a thousand feet below the ocean surface at least; the pile would be withdrawn except for the tip, and the next tip driven at a nearby but random location.

What about the fear and animosity against Nuclear reactors? This fear and animosity is based on proveably false beliefs and false ideas promoted by some who know they are false, usually politicians seeking votes, but mostly they are repeated by uniformed people who do not wish to even examine their false opinions and beliefs about anything. Even including Chernobyl, the statistics show that hydro power is far more dangerous. No nuclear reactor accident in the US could be as bad as Chernobyl under any circumstances.

Most of these people do not know that they have built in Radio-activity. Most of them do not know that they are exposed to even more natural radioactivity from the earth and sky. Some of them, when questioned, might admit that they might be radio-active from residual radio-activity from explosions or reactors or they might have heard some of the publicity about testing for radon in their home.

If the Three-Mile-Island reactor fault had happened in the USSR, no one would have heard of it for years and the world might be a better place.

France was using much imported oil to produce electricity when the first major price rise hit more than thirty years ago; now most of their electricity is generated by nuclear reactors and much is sold to neighboring countries. There are no coal mines in operation in France. Heat pumps powered with french nuclear electricity may be cheaper to heat a house with than gas.

Yes oil is simpler to get out of the ground than oil shale. Yes it is easier to refine. Yes the process releases more carbon dioxide. Yes the resulting fuel would be one fourth the present cost.

Forbid large houses and automobiles not oil shale production. Houses and highways have ruined more natural land and produced more carbon dioxide than oilshale mining ever could, and the required restoration of oil shale lands can make even more useful land than the original lands. ..HG..

ejj

A complete moratorium isn't necessarily the best approach here for the environment. In the U.S., who pays the most for wildlife conservation through the purchase of duck stamps, user fees, licenses, and taxes on equipment? Hunters! In a similar way, strip mining companies have very deep pockets and could be made to shell out a fortune for mitigation during the permitting process. The mitigation could be anything related environmental preservation, conservation, and / or restoration. Lots of environmental jobs could be created in the process. Instead, some kooks and quacks in Australia's government are ruining it for everyone else.

wintermane

You basicaly have 2 choices. Start work now and do your best to make it safe and careful.. Or wait till things fall apart and watch it go military and loose all control.

Because when oil runs too low it will go military and if you try and get in the way after that you will simply be shot.

Lee

That coal and that oil shale and the uranium are all going to run out eventually, if we can live that long with their pollution.

AU has gobs and gobs of hot sunny desert. Why not learn how to use that energy? It will never run out, go up in price or cause pollution.

ToppaTom

Could you expand on those points a bit Henry?

Sullny

"Forbid large houses and automobiles not oil shale production. "

And large meals while we're at it. Who needs a whole bunch of chicken wings when 5-6 should do?? And large bodies cost us a fortune in medical bills. Anyone over the average size weight limit should pay the "Fat Tax." After that let's forbid big animals - why do we have to tolerate elephants and hippos that consume huge volumes of biomass and offer only methane in exchange? Then there's big ideas - without them life would be far more tolerable and moderate.

Henry Gibson

Solar energy is very dilute compared to fossil fuel energy or even wood. Large very costly collectors are needed for large amounts of energy. A single human animal requires a great deal of land to survive without cheap energy. Plants and animals are not very efficient converters of solar energy and they take a lot of room.

Intensive agriculture was invented about 7000 years ago to increase the ease of collecting energy by humans and it reduced the cost of energy significantly. But it was not enough to let the population grow beyond a few millions.

Writing and reading supported an advance in technology that about eliminated all forests in populated countries. Most of the fertile soil of North Africa was used up and run off into the sea to supply food to ancient Rome.

Nuclear energy is very concentrated. Only small collectors are needed. Now only small fraction of the energy available from the fission of reactor fuel is released. A pound of uranium or thorium can be fissioned to release about the same energy that is in 3,000,000 pounds of coal. Someone stated that it took 10,000 pounds of coal for the same energy as a pound of fabricated reactor fuel, but this seems low. Processes are known that could get all of the rest of the energy out of the "used" fuel elements. If the speculative price of uranium continues high, these processes will be used.

It is far more likely that a commercial process could be invented to get fission energy out of lead than it is out of fusion. It has 75% of the fission energy of Uranium available. There is no reason to do it because the uranium already extracted could provide all of the earth's energy at present rates for a thousand years with the known processes. Then there is three times as much Thorium as there is uranium. Thorium was used by the first US commercial reactor at one point as a test.

Combined with a very small percentage of surplus material from fission armaments, now being eliminated, Thorium can be used as most of the fuel for CANDU reactors.

I repeat; There probably is not enough used nuclear fuel in the world to fill a large oil tanker, but it might be heavy enough to sink it. To do so in two miles deep of water would be statistically far safer for the whole human race for the next million years than just all of the cars in North Dakota. But it would waste at least the energy of a hundred years of the earths use of all fuels.

Do not forget; every live thing that ever existed and now exists, including people, must have ingested radio-active potassium to live. Every plant and animal has always been radio-active.

Nuclear energy may indeed wipe out the earth, but only by allowing the increase of population to the point that there is little opportunity for existing plants and animals to survive. ..HG..

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