No, because there is a limited amount of oil in this form. It is just like every other oil resource we find, there is a certain amount, and when that amount is used there will be no more. It is also the dirtiest method of extracting and processing the oil, which further makes it non-sustainable. There are also issues such as land use, waste disposal, water use, and waste-water management that arise from the process. Below there is more info.
It could be sustainable for some period of time, just as oil production has been sustainable since 1859. But at present, oil shale development is not economic, which is a much greater consideration than its sustainability.
rigibson, it seems like you have a strong background in oil and gas issues. What is the biggest economic hurdle to oil shale development? Without having any expertise, I would render a guess that it is the technology and equipment required to extract and process the oil shale. Is that correct?
And if so, (and I’m not sure this is within your expertise or not) might it be more economical for us to shift to alternative energy/fuels sources that *might* be less expensive?
Thanks for sharing your knowledge about energy– I’ve learned a lot from reading your answers.
I think the technology is there. Most of what I read says that the price of oil needs to be sustained at more than $90 per barrel for oil shale operations to be economic. Because there are huge up-front costs (billions of dollars, comparable to an oil refinery) to invest before any profit is made, it will be some time before any oil shale operation really begins in earnest. Touching $90 a barrel, or even $140 like in 2008, is not enough – companies have to believe it will be at such levels for a long time, like decades, because that’s what it will take to get any return. Even when they have the infrastructure in place, oil shale requires something like one barrel of oil in energy to generate 2 barrels of product (estimates vary from 1.5 to 3). In comparison, conventional oil takes one barrel of energy to produce 30 in return.
Alternatives are great and some might be less expensive. The main problem is that all the alternatives taken together don’t really come close to the volumes of oil that we (USA) consume. The way I see it, the only way things can change is if drastic reductions in consumption are part of the equation. Given Americans’ addition to their lifestyles, I have trouble imagining that happening any time soon – unless it is forced upon us.
That is interesting. I had always assumed that higher prices for oil would mean the market would transition us to alternative energy sources. I had never thought that one of those “alternatives” would be oil shale. But of course, that makes sense that it would.
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