Oil shale, shale oil are different

I’m writing in response to the oil shale op-ed by Janine Fitzgerald (Herald, March 10). It seems that Fitzgerald has fallen victim to some rather confusing energy industry jargon. Oil shale and shale oil are two different things. Oil shale refers to kerogen-rich shale, where kerogen must be “cracked” to yield marketable oil. Fitzgerald correctly notes that no one seems to have figured out how to do this in a way that makes economic sense. At the same time however, no one, outside of a few unscrupulous land speculators, is claiming that it is going to lift us into energy independence any time soon.

Shale oil, on the other hand, is recovered through the application of proved oil-producing technologies – horizontal drilling in combination with multi-stage fracture stimulation technology – which unfortunately come with their own load of controversial baggage. These technologies do, however, appear to have the potential to significantly impact the world’s energy supply.

Energy companies are above all else, profit-driven. Their oil-shale work is experimental and speculative. Shale oil, on the other hand, is being pursued aggressively where it makes economic sense (energy produced is greater than energy consumed by the exploitation process). To suggest differently implies a lack of understanding of the industry.

Our modern civilization runs on energy. The social, economic and environmental impacts of U.S. energy policy (or the lack thereof) are felt globally. Fossil fuels are not sustainable. Alternatives are generally more expensive and not available at the flip of a switch, nor will they become available without their own impacts being felt (think precious-metal mining and surface disturbances for generation and transmission, among other things). How we transition to a more sustainable-energy future is a huge and complex issue confronting the entire world. There is no easy solution. Informed, open-minded and thoughtful debate should be central to the solution process.

Neale Roberts


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