Utah’s Carbon Bomb

March 15, 2014

Democracy Now:

While the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline and the Alberta tar sands has galvanized the environmental movement, far less attention has been paid to a related story here in the West. The state of Utah has begun making preparations for its own major tar sands and oil shale extraction projects. According to one U.S. government report, land in the region could hold up to three trillion barrels of oil — that’s more recoverable oil than has been used so far in human history. Critics say Utah is sitting on a tar sands carbon bomb. The Utah Water Quality Board has recently begun giving out permits for companies to extract from the state’s tar sands reserves


23 Responses to “Utah’s Carbon Bomb”

  1. Sir Charles Says:


    The International Energy Agency (IEA) chief economist has warned that 2/3 of proven fossil fuel reserves will need to be left undeveloped if climate change is to remain below the 2°C threshold. IEA report urges world governments to limit greenhouse gas emissions from energy sector.

    => Shale Gas Bulletin Ireland

    • Actually, we need to leave at least 4/5ths of the known fossil fuels in the ground.

      • To get atmospheric CO2 back down to 350 ppm, we need to put on the order of 40% of already-burned fossil fuels BACK in the ground.

        We’re not going to do that without carbon-free energy.  Even if all we do is assist nature by digging up cubic kilometers of olivine, crushing it to the size of coarse sand and letting it weather to carbonates, that takes energy.

  2. jimbills Says:

    The tar sands there might get developed. I’m highly skeptical about oil shale development. The costs are enormous, plus there will be major water issues in that region with extraction. Oil shale has about 1/10th the level of energy of crude oil:

    Which basically means you also have to pour energy into getting energy – a very slippery slope.

    Fortunately, the tar sands are only 20 billion barrels (slightly more than U.S. consumption for one year) of that 3 trillion barrel estimate (the vast majority is oil shale).

    Recent news on Canadian tar sands:

    • jimbills Says:

      More info about oil shale:

      “Unless oil shale development receives considerable government support, the industry is not expected to be economically viable.”

      Here’s what the U.S. government says about it:

      The GAO is a branch of Congress. They like it and they don’t mention climate change as a potential downside. It’s all about the jobs.

    • jimbills Says:

      The IEA on Estonia and oil shale:

      Key phrases are “environmentally savvy oil shale technologies” and “use of oil shale in a cleaner, more sustainable manner.”

      No word on the burgeoning snake oil market, however.

      • rayduray Says:

        Hi jim,

        I’m also getting hints about oil shale in western Ukraine being a key driver in the massively fraudulent U.S. effort to perpetrate a violent coup d’etat in that godforsaken nation. The gambit is that if Chevron can develop Ukraine oil & gas, then those evil Russkies are going to lose their Gazprom marketplace.

        The Great Game continues. Some deaths may occur.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          “I love the smell of hyperbole and propaganda in the morning”, if I may be allowed to steal that line. “massively fraudulent”? “violent coup d’etat”?
          “godforsaken” and “evil”? Lord love a duck!

          • rayduray Says:

            Wake up and smell the sedition! 🙂

            Had you actually bothered to learn anything about the history of Ukraine, you’d understand that the term “godforsaken” is the opposite of hyperbole. It is indeed understatement.

            Oh, by the way, Good Morning!

          • dumboldguy Says:

            We can always count on Ray to be unfocused, as in giving insults and warm greetings both in the same message. Perhaps it’s his underlying hypocrisy showing?.

            If there IS a “god”, the whole freakin’ planet is godforsaken, Ray. Wake up and smell the horsepucky—since you throw so much of it around here, the odor should be pretty strong in your immediate vicinity

            “massively fraudulent” indeed. If everyone remembers the Jim Carrie line in The Mask, where he looks in the mirror and says “SMO-kin” in self-satisfaction, be aware that Ray stands in front of HIS mirror, smiles at himself, and says “today I will be MASS-ively FRAUD-ulent!”

            He is yet again trying to inject world politics into a rather straight forward piece about tar sands in Utah, and if us Crockers don’t like it, too bad!

            I would love to see evidence of any connection between Utah tar sands, Chevron, Gazprom, and U.S. geopolitics—-got one, Ray?

          • rayduray Says:

            Re: “I would love to see evidence of any connection between Utah tar sands, Chevron, Gazprom, and U.S. geopolitics—-got one, Ray?”

            Try this. The Democracy NOW! segment directly addressed the corporate swindle that involves foreign corporations being put into play to avoid a host of regulatory hurdles that would negatively impact a domestic corporation trying to set up a mining/resource extraction project in the U.S.

            The DN! piece mentioned Estonia as the domicile of a lead exploration & development company in the Utah tar sands and oil shale plays.

            This reminds me of George H.W. Bush’s $10 Billion give-away to Barrick Corp. of Canada to create one of the most environmentally destructive gold mines in America. This is located in the basin of the Humboldt River in Nevada and is expected to absolutely devastate that river system. There’s a geopoliical link. And a fine payday for an ex-President sellout out the public interest to a foreign corporation. Greg Palast has the details: http://www.gregpalast.com/poppy-strikes-gold/

            How could Bush play godfather and then lobbyist for this? Geopolitics? I’d say I see geopolitics at work here.

            And if you think Chevron is in Ukraine on a humanitarian mission you’re a bit weak-minded. Chevron is there, playing its part in the game of American corporate dominance. The intention, clearly stated if you do some research, is to use the oil & gas that Chevron pumps out of western Ukraine (similar to the Bakken play in ND & MT) to destroy the market position of Gazprom. Gazprom, of course, is basically a state owned asset of the Russian government in all but name. So, yeah, there’s some geopolitics involved here.

            Your question, “got one, Ray?” worries me about you. I laid out the evidence and there’s plenty of information available to you on the Internet independent of my efforts to educate and yet you come back with a benighted belligerence that has me concerned that you are failing to engage your brain before you start whacking away at your keyboard. Please consider that some observers here may see your angry outburst as little more than an uninformed childish rant and a display of puerile nationalism. OK? Thanks.

    • Jimbills- I second the motion on oil shale economic viability. People are not used to thinking of EROI. Oil shale is more energy intensive than tar sands.
      These days, everything is about recovery. The evolution of fracking has made gas and oil extraction possible with conventional oil prices. Tar sands also relies on energy to extract, in Canada from natural gas.
      “You know, if the oil really can be recovered, transported and refined without using much or any water or fouling the air or the land or threatening the extinction of rare plants, and if it wouldn’t require so darn much energy to produce energy from oil shale, and if it really would magically improve Utah public education, and if there were no such thing as climate chaos caused in large part by the burning of fossil fuels, and if there were no good reasons for transitioning as quickly as possible to cleaner forms of energy, and if it were a good idea for high school graduates to forgo ever attaining a real education in favor of making the big bucks working in oil shale mines, then this oil shale scheme might be worth pursuing.”

      Oil shale requires heating to 900 degrees to recover in addition to mining. Oil shale in Colorado has never worked because it I’d 1000 feet deep. They tried in situ heating. Utah has surface deposits. That is what they are going for there.
      They are competing with fracking and tar sands. We are in an era of low EROI, high cost fossil fuels. The oil companies are in a CAPEX crisis. Witness she’ll pulling out in Colorado.

  3. dumboldguy Says:

    The oil shale out there has been talked about for years, and several “pilot projects” in CO have gone nowhere in the past. As jimbills says, costs and water issues are big problems for them, and we can also hope that the public will finally notice that the FF interests want to turn the country into a sacrifice zone. You can only find so many out-of-the-way places to destroy before people get upset.

    IMO, once the Arctic Ocean is ice-free and the ice recedes in Greenland, the FF companies will rush there to drill for easier to get at and cleaner oil, and forget about tar sands anywhere Who knows?, they may even find some “clean coal”.

    (And it’s unfortunate that “it’s all about the jobs”. It’s a good tactic for the corporatocracy—-send the real jobs overseas—-then the only jobs left will be destroying the landscape in search of FF and working in the fast food restaurants that feed the destroyers).

  4. Wes Says:

    In a rational world we’d be paying folks to put carbon back in the ground. Instead we employ our ingenuity to get more out and accelerate our own misfortune. There must have been a point where our evolution preserved the wrong gene, an error that nature will now correct, as nature does. The gene of “examining future consequences” – ah, how we miss you!

  5. dumboldguy Says:

    Response to Ray Duray’s comment on 3/15 at 2:40 Part One

    Let’s back up and first deal with “Had you actually bothered to learn anything about the history of Ukraine, you’d understand that the term “godforsaken” is (not hyperbole but) understatement”.

    Sorry, Ray, but I DO know something about the history of Ukraine, and it is no more “godforsaken” than many other countries on the planet. Yes, there have been famines and genocides, civil wars, and occupations in Ukraine—one could make a case that they were comparable to the genocide and slavery and war we have witnessed in the U.S., including the fact that 25% of the children in this country live in poverty and many go to bed hungry—-is the U.S. “godforsaken” also? I call BS on you. It WAS hyperbole, pure and simple, as was the use of “massively fraudulent”, “violent coup d’etat”, and “evil”. Just another of your attempts to twist the discussion on Crock away from climate change and to your agenda.

    But Ray knows that, so he is going to ignore my pointing it out and move off to something he thinks he knows about. Ray offers up some “evidence” of geopolitical connections, but I am afraid that Ray has gotten the definition of “geopolitics” confused with favoritism for special interests and crony capitalism rather than actions taken by a government. Ukraine has certainly been involved in “geopolitics”, its location making it a prime target. It has at times been part of Poland, Lithuania, Austria-Hungary, and the USSR, and that’s what’s afoot now, Putin’s ideas of empire, with oil being but a background issue.

    What Ray cites was and is just business as usual among the plutocracy and the corporatocracy. Ray needs to read up more on the Bushes. I have on the shelf both The Book on Bush, and American Dynasty (written by Kevin Phillips, who also wrote the very illuminating Wealth and Democracy). I read them ten years ago but later events have only reinforced their message. Ray needs to go back to WW I and before and look into all those Herbert Walkers and Prescott Bushes whose initials and philosophy reach down through the generations to GHWB and GWB. Robber Barons reborn who used their positions to benefit themselves and their cronies, NOT the country.

  6. dumboldguy Says:

    Response to Ray Duray;s comment on 3/15 at 2:40 Part Two

    Using foreign corporations to circumvent regulation? How about to avoid paying taxes? How about moving jobs overseas and destroying the middle class? Is that U.S. geopolitics at work? Or just greed?

    A company based in Estonia? How about Rio Tinto and Anglo American, who were going to develop the Pebble Mine in Alaska, and are digging up half the world in dozens of countries? Just because they are UK based, does that mean they are making “geopolitical” moves on behalf of the UK, CAN, and AUS?—-or are they merely trying to get rich, just as Pappy was with Barrick? Look up the Carlyle Group also, if you want to see where Pappy went after retiring.

    Ray is also displaying typical narcissistic behavior here. I have pushed his buttons and he is lashing out rather than doing some self-examination . Ray is again demonstrating for us the Demented Rooster Strutting Around the Barnyard Crowing About Imagined Victories Syndrome. Ray looks down his nose in disdain and spouts a string of oh-so-clever but impotent putdowns.

    you’re a bit weak-minded (my mind is strong enough to deal with you)
    your question worries me about you (grammar?)
    my efforts to educate (educate yourself first)
    you come back with a benighted belligerence (flowery horsepucky)
    you are failing to engage your brain (jarheads don’t have any, remember?)

    Followed by the final crushing blow that narcissists always attempt to deliver as absolute proof of their self-imagined superiority, “…some observers here may see your angry outburst as little more than an uninformed childish rant and a display of puerile nationalism. OK? Thanks”.

    SOME observers, Ray? Who besides you? I await their comments. And I would suggest that YOU, Ray, are far more guilty of “angry outbursts”, “uninformed childish rants”, and “puerility ”. (You DOrealize that childish and puerile are synonyms?). Typical narcissistic behavior—just declare victory and strut around crowing.

    Yes, it IS true that “Chevron is there, playing its part in the game of American corporate dominance”—-as I said, capitalism in action. I am still waiting for a link that will tie that to “geopolitics” and Utah. Otherwise, would you stop your peurile (childish) political rants and get back to Utah tar sands. OK? Thanks.

  7. From BLM, 2011, “There are no economically viable ways yet known to extract and process oil shale for commercial purposes.”[43]
    The production of shale oil has been hindered because of technical difficulties and costs.

    As for tar sands, Utah’s thin, lenticular, crusty deposits bear little resemblance to the thick, easily mined riches in Canada.
    There’s a trillion tons of oil shale in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, enough to mine a million tons a day for three thousand years. But the rocks won’t yield any energy until they are heated. To convert oil shale into crude, you must bake it to 700 degrees for months or roast it at a higher temperature for minutes. You have to put a lot of heat in to get any oil out.

    The oil in those formations is hard to get. The Bakken is ran Dakota is richer, but still has such low EROI that it requires way more capital than conventional. This CAPEX problem is causing oil companies headaches.

    • It’s a pity that “shale oil” and “oil shale” are so easily-confused terms for such different things.  (Damn sloppy nomenclature!)

      Any energy economy incorporating large amounts of intermittent environmental energy flows, such as wind and solar, immediately suggests the concept of “dump loads” to convert instantaneous excesses into a longer-term value stream.  Borehole heaters in oil shale formations are one such possible dump load.  It doesn’t matter how rapidly a formation is heated to kerogen’s decomposition temperature, just as long as it gets there.  So long as the petroleum product has high value, the effort may yield a profit.

      One certain way to make it uneconomic to convert an intermittent energy supply to a 24/7 supply is to create a 24/7 supply at the outset.  Making it carbon-free is a bonus.  It’s such a pity that most of the people who demand an end to carbon emissions look at it and scream “UNCLEAN!”

  8. Did you know we are exporting crude oil to Canada?
    Unlike the stalled cross-border Keystone XL Pipeline, the pipeline project to carry American crude across the border was approved by the US government without controversy.[54]
    All the new N American oil has CAPEX problems.
    The same techniques of horizontal drilling and multi-stage massive hydraulic fracturing are used….
    According to North Dakota government statistics, daily oil production per well seems to have peaked (or at least reached a plateau) at 145 barrels in June 2010.[40] Although the number of wells doubled between June 2010 and December 2011, oil production per well remains essentially unchanged. However, total oil produced continues to increase, as more wells are brought online.
    Absent the infrastructure to produce and export natural gas, it is merely burned on the spot ; a 2013 study estimated the cost at $100 million per month.[55]

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