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The Daily Sentinel (Colorado): The grand delusion

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

There it was again last Friday — the old refrain that has been heard around these parts off and on for decades: A regional commercial oil-shale industry is just around the corner.

Right. And ocean-front property will soon be available in Cisco, Utah.

And this commercial oil-shale industry is destined to be even bigger than the 1-million-barrel-a-day moondrift ballyhooed a quarter century ago by the Exxon Corp., much to the energy giant’s great embarrassment and northwestern Colorado’s lasting regret.

The latest proponent of the commercial oil-shale hokum is Tony Dammer, director of the Office of Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves. Speaking at the Energy Expo and Forum in Grand Junction Friday, he said a commercial shale industry, under a pedal-to-the-medal regulatory environment, can be operating in western Colorado by 2015, and it could be producing 2.5 million barrels of oil a day.

Dammer said the commercial industry would likely develop from a combination of companies using different technologies, such as Shell’s in-situ process.

He made his prediction on the very day that local press reports carried stories announcing Royal Dutch Shell was pushing back the 2010 date on which it had planned to decide whether to proceed with commercial oil-shale development using its underground-heating process at its Piceance Basin Mahogany Project.

Shell has done far more than other oil-shale companies in keeping the public fully apprised of its oil-shale development work. It has offered straightforward assessments of the obstacles it faces, not the least of these is determining how to provide the massive amounts of electricity its in-situ process will require. And that’s just for Shell. What sort of technical problems are facing other companies and other technologies?

Dammer did acknowledge there will be environmental consequences from a commercial oil-shale industry. But not to worry, he said, “Oil shale is not going to destroy western Colorado.”

That may depend on what one’s definition of “destroy” is.

We’ll tell you what it is. A 2 million-barrel-a-day commercial oil-shale industry, primarily located in the Piceance Basin, will destroy Western Colorado as it we know it today. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Even if all the infrastructural and environmental challenges can be met for such an unheard-of production level, to produce 2 million-plus barrels of oil a day from the Piceance Basin would transform much of northwestern Colorado into a full-blown industrial zone that would make the likes of Gary, Ind., look positively alluring by comparison.

Dammer’s prediction sounds just like the over-hyped forecasts for oil shale that were made 30 years ago. It greatly ill serves this region for anyone to perpetuate them.

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