A New Black Gold Rush

i-b0c54806063d1948685bc5c6d1c52997-repost.jpgLately, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to adapt. I made this "adapt fish", which you can see sitting beneath my blogroll. However, aside from the obvious-finding a way to live that isn't so dependant on fossil fuels-I'm not exactly sure what it means. This has dragged out a whole hoard of philosophical questions hidden within the big one: Do we know when we are adapting? Why do we react so badly to change, if change can bring improvement? It seems clear that it isn't a black and white issue... there's a swath of grayness, where our dependence on technology clashes with our dependence on nature.

Here is a perfect example: Some of the major oil companies are discussing the prospect of drilling for oil shale in the Colorado Rockies. I wonder, will technology, at least in this case, bring comprimise or stir unease?

i-3b5e4ac5ccd0dd464333bd077dd78bcd-oilshale.jpg"Drilling" for oil shale is, in itself, a very new and high-tech idea. An old-fashioned pump, like the one drilling my fish, pulls oil from pockets in sandstone, where it flows through the porous rock like water (more or less.) When the oil is locked in shale, a much denser stone, the oil doesn't really flow. So, the old fashioned pumps are no use. In the past, in order to extract the trapped oil, the rock had to be mined, then cooked... loosened chunks of shale were heated to high temperatures (up to 500 degrees Celsius.) The mining process was usually rather scarring, often removing half of a mountainside.

Now, some companies want to drill for oil in shale, rather than mine it, by heating the rock underground. The Grand Junction Sentinel reports:

Now, companies considered to be leaders in the industry, such as Shell Exploration and Production Co., want to get oil shale without mining, instead using an in-situ (or in-ground) process.

The company is researching ways to drill 1,000-foot holes and insert large heaters into the ground. After three or four years of bringing the temperature up to 700 degrees Fahrenheit, shale oil is released from the rock and distilled at the surface.

While the process does not actually involve mining, it is not without land disturbance.

"There's considerable surface disturbance with the in-situ process," Klusman said. "But once it is done, you can put the topsoil back, recontour the land and revegetate it."

Having seen the scarred mountainsides, I rather like this idea better. It's a bizzare image: cooking the mountains to extract oil... but it seems far more practical than using a nuke.

Notes: Image of the 1950's era "Oil Shale Demonstration Branch Underground Mine and Plant" in Rifle, Colorado via the Bureau of Mines. More from the GJ Sentinel on the new proposal can be found here.

This is a repost from ChaoticUtopia.com, published originally on June 5, 2006.

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