Wanna Burn Shale for the Winter?

Randy Udall at The Oil Drum puts shale "oil"  in clear perspective:

Let's try a redneck experiment.

Winter's coming, and I'm willing to pay $1,000 to the first Coloradan who decides to heat their house with oil shale. I'll deliver it in October, free of charge.

Such an experiment would teach you a lot. First, you'd learn that there's three times more energy in a pound of split pine or recycled phone books or cattle manure or Cap'n Crunch than in a pound of oil shale.

Next, you'd learn that 85 percent of oil shale is inert mineral matter. This means that on a cold winter day you'd have to shovel about 700 pounds of rocks into your oil shale furnace and remove 600 pounds of ash.

If, during the course of the winter, you burned 40 tons (about what you'd need), come spring you'd have 36 tons of hazardous waste, enough to fill three dump trucks.

I'll pay for the dump trucks, you deal with the EPA.

For those who dream of cheap energy, it is always worth reminding them that all these "new" sources of "oil" come at a price tag.  We might drill the Arctic or extract oil from shale, but we are NEVER going back to cheap energy - in fact, this is the most expensive energy in economic and environmental costs in human history.  And that's saying something.


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In anthropology, when trying to get the students to take seriously other cultures, I sometimes made an aside about how we had created the most inefficient form of agriculture ever invented (e.g. 9 or 10 calories in, 1 calorie out). Of course, for most students efficiency meant man-hours not energy thermodynamics, because extra energy was so cheap and obvious that adding it in didn't even count. Well, for 99% of the history of human agriculture it was the only thing that counted really.

By Andy Brown (not verified) on 07 Mar 2013 #permalink

Actually, I have to wonder if oil shale isn't producing, today, more problems with disposing toxic waste, than nuclear power ever did.

Agriculture has always depended on external energy sources, and always will. Up until fossil fuels and fertilizer became widely available, the external energy came from the sun. Ruminant animals concentrated the solar energy used to grow feed crops at a cost in efficiency. As fossil fuels run out we'll go back to depending on the sun, although various technologies will continue to concentrate lots of sun-derived energy into any given food product in a more or less inefficient way.

By Adam Grant (not verified) on 14 Mar 2013 #permalink

Oil shale also puffs up like popcorn when burned. Thus you get a very large increase in volume of the waste.