Jeremy Boak 
Member since Jul 19, 2014


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Re: “The water-energy nexus could become a collision in a warming world

Jonathan Thompson provides an interesting review of WRA's "revelations" about shale oil production from oil shale, but it is a bit superficial when it comes to water use for oil shale.

First, terminology: for more than 100 years, oil shale and shale oil have referred to the source rock and the product respectively of oil shale retorting. Oil-bearing shale and shale-hosted oil (terms I coined several years ago) would be geologically appropriate terms for rock and product for formations like the Bakken, in which oil has been generated by geothermal heat due to burial, but would not apply to oil shale. Oil shale and wine grapes, must go through complex processing to generate the product that gives them their names. Not all kerogen, the complex organic material (not exclusively hydrocarbon) that produces all oil, is waxy, although the Green River Formation kerogen is.
Second, water use: even with today's technology and drilling rates, hydraulic fracturing uses less than 1% of Colorado's water. Oil shale processing at the levels envisioned, even the high water use system proposed by Chevron's lawyers to justify retaining their full water right, would also use about 1% to produce a few hundred million dollars worth of crude oil per day.

Biofuel fabrication requires 5 to 100 times as much per unit product. A two liter bottle of Coke uses 1-2 times as much as the dated technology "proposed" by Chevron's lawyers to defend a water right they might just want to sell along with the lease they say they will not use, but have not yet relinquished. If water use is a critical criterion, should we be using Colorado River water to make wine? The water use number cited for Las Vegas takes account only of home use; none of the industrial water uses incidental to people's lives is included.

Finally, Chevron's "new technology choice": certainly, no Chevron technical person in the past eight years has presented any results of technical investigations of surface retorting at oil shale conferences.

Much as the author and WRA would like to make this story the "truth" about oil shale water use, most people recognize that documents traded among lawyers are directed at shaping fact to support a particular viewpoint. The topic of water use for oil shale is complex and rapidly evolving. It deserves a more balanced discussion than it gets in this piece that declares its bias from the first sentence.

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Posted by Jeremy Boak on 07/19/2014 at 6:45 AM

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