Does the U.S. Really Have More Oil than Saudi Arabia?

The Difference Between Oil Shale and Oil-Bearing Shale

People are often confused about the overall extent of U.S. oil reserves. Some claim that the U.S. has hundreds of billions or even trillions of barrels of oil waiting to be produced if bureaucrats will simply stop blocking development. In fact, in a recent debate between Republican candidates contending for Gabrielle Giffords' recently vacated House seat, one candidate declared "We have more oil in this country than in Saudi Arabia." So, I thought it might be a good idea to elaborate a bit on U.S. oil resources.

Oil production has been increasing in the U.S. for the past few years, primarily driven by expanding production from the Bakken Shale Formation in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas. The oil that is being produced from these shale formations is sometimes improperly referred to as shale oil. But when some people speak of hundreds of billions or trillions of barrels of U.S. oil, they are most likely talking about the oil shale in the Green River Formation in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. Since the shale in North Dakota and Texas is producing oil, some have assumed that the Green River Formation and its roughly 2 trillion barrels of oil resources will be developed next because they think it is a similar type of resource. But it is not.

Although the oil in the Bakken and Eagle Ford is being extracted from shale formations, the term shale oil has been used for over 100 years to describe a very different resource. This has led some to confusion over the differences between current production in North Dakota and potential production in Colorado. The oil in the Bakken and Eagle Ford formations actually exists as oil, but the shale does not allow the oil to flow very well. This oil is properly called "tight oil", and advances in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) technology have allowed some of this oil to be economically produced. (For more details, I discuss resources, reserves, fracking, shale gas, and oil shale in some detail in my new book Power Plays: Energy Options in the Age of Peak Oil).

The estimated amount of oil in place (the resource) varies widely, with some suggesting that there could be 400 billion barrels of oil in the Bakken. Because of advances in fracking technology, some of the resource has now been classified as reserves (the amount that can be technically and economically produced). However, the reserve is a very low fraction of the resource at 2 to 4 billion barrels (although some industry estimates put the recoverable amount as high as 20 billion barrels or so). For reference, the U.S. consumes a billion barrels of oil in about 52 days, and the world consumes a billion barrels in about 11 days.

Like the Bakken, the Eagle Ford formation in Texas consists of oil (and natural gas) in tight formations that is being accessed via fracking. The amount of technically recoverable oil in the Eagle Ford is estimated by the U.S. Department of Energy to be 3.35 billion barrels of oil.

Without a doubt, these two formations are a major factor in the current resurgence of U.S. oil production. But the Green River formation is the source of talk of those enormous oil resources -- larger than those of Saudi Arabia -- and it is a very different prospect than the tight oil being produced in North Dakota and Texas. The oil shale in the Green River looks like rock. Unlike the hydrocarbons in the tight oil formations, the oil shale (kerogen) consists of very heavy hydrocarbons that are solid. In that way, oil shale more resembles coal than oil. Oil shale is essentially oil that Mother Nature did not finish cooking, and thus to convert it into oil, heat has to be added. The energy requirements -- plus the fact that oil shale production requires a lot of water in a very dry environment -- have kept oil shale commercialization out of reach for over 100 years.

Thus, while the U.S. might indeed have greater oil resources than Saudi Arabia, U.S. oil reserves (per the BP Statistical Review of World Energy) are only about 1/10th those of Saudi Arabia. The distinction is important.

Summarizing the Definitions

To summarize, let's review the definitions for the important terms discussed here:

Oil resource -- the total amount of oil in place, most of which typically can't be recovered

Oil reserve -- the amount of oil that can be recovered economically with existing technology

Oil shale -- sedimentary rock that contains solid hydrocarbons called kerogen (e.g., Green River Formation)

Shale oil -- the oil that can be obtained by cooking kerogen

Tight oil -- liquid hydrocarbons that are obtained by hydraulic fracturing of shale formations (e.g., Bakken Formation and Eagle Ford Formation)

Conclusion: Resources are not Reserves, and Tight Oil isn't Shale Oil

It is pretty clear that at current oil prices, developments in the tight oil formations will continue. It is not at all clear that even at $100 oil the shale in the Green River formation will be commercialized to produce oil, although a number of companies are working on it and will continue to do so. Oil shale is commercially produced in some countries like Estonia, but it is primarily just burned for power.

In order to commercially convert the oil shale into oil, a more energy efficient method of producing it must be found (or, one would have to have extremely cheap energy and abundant water supplies to drive the process). I have heard from multiple industry sources that the energy return for producing oil from oil shale is around 4 to 1 (lower than for oil sands production), and that is before refining the oil to finished products. At this sort of energy return, oil sands will continue to be a more economical heavy oil option.

Thus, my prediction is that despite having an oil shale resource that may indeed be far greater than the oil resources of Saudi Arabia (I don't think I have seen an estimate of Saudi's total oil resources), the reserve will continue to be close to zero for the foreseeable future because there are still many technical hurdles to overcome to realize a scalable, commercially viable process.

Finally, I would say that if a commercially viable process for shale oil production from the Green River formation is developed, the environmental blowback will be enormous. The production of shale oil is more energy intensive (i.e., has higher carbon emissions) than for the oil sands, it has a high water requirement in a dry climate, and it is potentially a huge new source of carbon dioxide emissions.  The environmental protests that would arise in response to a growing commercial shale oil operation would make the Keystone XL pipeline protests pale in comparison.

A distinction between the oil resources in the Bakken/Eagle Ford formations and the Green River oil shale certainly needs to be made, and I commend Robert for taking this on. One solution for dealing with the confusion and hype about this is to simply point out the difference with articles such as this. But because most people won't read such articles, Robert suggests that we stop calling oil in the Bakken et al "shale oil" because:

The oil that is being produced from these shale formations is sometimes improperly referred to as shale oil.

However, it is certainly proper to refer to this oil as "shale oil" because that is where the kerogen was baked into oil by natural processes and where it now lies. Now, one can argue on the basis of historical usage:

Although the oil in the Bakken and Eagle Ford is being extracted from shale formations, the term shale oil has been used for over 100 years to describe a very different resource.

True, "shale oil" has long been used to describe what you get when you bake the (e.g. Green River) oil shale to convert the kerogen within into oil. But the source of the confusion between the production potential of this "EZ-bake" shale oil and the natural slow-cook stuff is more likely the improper use of the term "oil shale" to describe the Green River rock, because there is really no oil there (yet). But rather than engage in an argument over logical semantics vs. historical usage, I will simply point out that the ship has already sailed. And it is not only the unwashed press that is calling a spade a spade, but also The Oil and Gas Journal:

San Joaquin basin shale oil drawing more explorers

The US Energy Information Administration has estimated that 64% of the shale oil resource in the US Lower 48 is in California and that San Joaquin is volumetrically the richest California shale basin, Solimar pointed out.

and the EIA:

I think I understand the difference. But my brain is screaming for a mental image, can someone post some photos??

1) oil shale (kerogen)
2) tight oil from Bakken
3) Monterey/Santos "oil"

The term fool's gold comes to mind or should I say: "Fool's oil"

**But my brain is screaming for a mental image**

Try thinking of oil shale as shale that has been soaked in motor oil for centuries. If you break it up, some of the oil will flow out. The Green River rocks on the other hand are more like bricks that have somehow gotten candle wax into the pores. The issue is how to get the wax out where it can be worked with -- without using more energy than is eventually recovered.

My guess is that it will probably prove to be cheaper to produce liquid hydrocarbons from coal (South Africa has done that for decades) than to exploit the Green River kerogen deposits, and that the Green River rocks will be a source of frustration and misguided enthusiasm for many decades or maybe centuries.

I have a piece of oil shale in my book shelf. If no one comment on this post of mine, I shall upload a picture to somewhere and link to it from here.

It will make for powerful PR. Imagine someone holding up a rock and shouting, look here people, this is what passes for oil nowadays, and the MSM says that there's no problem

(Note: Aparently I do not have permission to acces the requested content, so instead of editing my post as planned, I comment on it).

When I visited my relatives in Riga, I found these lying about everywhere. I knew the estonians burn something like this for fuel and assumed they also exported some to Latvia. You find this stuff in large piles outside peoples houses; When they get a delivery, they simply dump it ouside your garage. I took a bit of Estonia with me and now have it in my book shelf.

This is some Oil Shale

Thanks Jedi. So this 'magical rock' holds the key to our future ??

Yes. It is shiny in an oily kind of way. When you hold it in your hand, it does not feel cold as a rock would, but warm as plastic. But still it don't feel as plastic either. You realy can tell it is a bit of rock with organic stuff in it.

Next time I go there, I will collect a whole bag and see how well it burns.

Here's a black-and-white photo, circa 1950, from the National Energy Technology Lab's archive, showing a fist-sized chunk of oil shale on the right, and a smaller fragment that has been lit.

It should burn quite nicely, Jedi. Translating the Estonian to English for this stone is 'burning stone'. One thing to consider is that the kerogen content by volume is the worlds highest by a considerable margin in the Estonian shale. Second is a problem: when burnt directly the volume of the waste is larger than the starting shale volume.... that is ignoring all the rather nasty pollutants from the burning.

Edit: for a period in the 1950's the USSR mined this shale for its Uranium.

Don't forget about the mining.

Here is some Estonian 'oil shale' extraction from 100 miles up:

The white spot on the coast is a city.

Hey, that's impressive.

Estonia gets to the top of the polluting power supply table by burning oil shale, Australia manages an honourable mention in second place through years of greed and mismanagement!

At least there is a plausible reason for the Estonian's power supply pollution.

Sorry to disappoint you but I believe that you actually have a piece of semicoke. Semicoke is what the Estonians call oilshale after the oil has been cooked out of it. Semicoke can still be used as a fuel because it still contains char byproduct from the decomposition of the kerogen into oil.

What most people don't realize is that this semicoke can be burned to provide the heat needed to heat the mined rock. Yes, extracting oil from oilshale is energy intensive but the input energy for the processing does not need to come from an external source.

Was in Estonia in 2011 and in Latvia in january 2012. Shale oil is a real ressource there, anyway the regions where this is mined out are the poorest and most polluted in all Europe (I'm talking about EU-27). The biggest oil shale cities, Narva and Sillamäe, are economically, socially and culturally devastated. Pollution there is at highest level in Europe, the Gulf of Finland is the most polluted internal sea of the entire Northern Hemispere (specially thank to soviet era heavy industry in the area). Narva is an important center of black market cigarettes, gasoline and drugs between Russia and (Estonia) UE, the most important job in Narva, done by poor russians born in Estonia but with few civil rights, is to pass the country borders to get cheap stuff to sell in Tallinn or in Helsinki. There's people "working" as gasoline-trader, they get paid 10 to 20 Euros for a full truck's tank of fuel imported that way in Estonia. And they live permanently at the border, in an infinite jam where border police has to control every car and every tank.
Just sick stuff to see when you are there.
If Oil Shale will really be the future of the world, now poverty is the future of the world.

Articles about pollution in Estonia (big part of it is oil shale industry, mining and processing):

Many of those people living in Narva and nearby industrial cities are Russian citizens. Almost 97% are Russian anyway. Narva was completely destroyed and depopulated by the Soviets. The current population or their parents were brought there during the Soviet occupation.
Also there is Oil shale at Russian side. I believe they have cities like Сланцы (Russian for oil shale) and Kingisepp and maybe others. They used to sell their shale to Estonian power plants, don´t know if they still do.
What i was trying to say is that the problems of the Russians in the area have little to do with oil shale industry. A lot of them are employed there but those problems were created by the collapse of the Soviet Union, with Narva becoming a border city - there was no border there for 50 years. It is a simple geographical process called becoming a periphery. Same kind of problems with a larger scale can be found in the coal mining area of Donets Basin Eastern-Ukraine.
Rumour says that the first Soviet atomic bomb was made of the uranium that was mined from estonian oil shale, more specifically from - Rhabdinopora flabelliformis.
PS! good pictures of estonian oil shale and its industry can be found by searching "põlevkivi" in google pictures

This is a small part of a message I sent to all my friends and relatives more than a year ago.

North Dakota and Montana have an estimated 3.0 to 4.3 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil in an area known as the Bakken Formation.

In this case technically means if the price is right, however 3-4 Billion barrels is 6 months of US consumption, and for the world it is little more than a month. So you think that small addition can reduce prices in the coming years?

The US uses about 7 billion barrels of crude per year and has about 25 billion barrels of proven reserves. Some “experts” keep telling us about the 2 trillion barrels of shale oil that is available to us in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. It may well be equivalent to 2 trillion barrels of oil, however it is not shale and it is not oil. It’s Marl or Marlstone a crumbly rock of calcium carbonate or lime rich mud made of clay and contains Kerogen not oil.

Kerogen is a mixture of organic material, rather than a specific chemical; it cannot be given a chemical formula. Indeed its chemical composition can vary distinctively from sample to sample. Kerogen from the Green river Formation oil shale deposit of western North America contains elements in the proportions carbon 215 hydrogen 330. The soluble portion of kerogen is known as bitumen and when heated to the proper temperature can be separated from the kerogen. The bitumen can then be extracted. Bitumen is black and the heaviest petroleum compound. To convert it to a lighter type of crude or product it must be Hydro-cracked in a chemical process where Methane or Natural gas Ch4 is used to add hydrogen atoms.

The bitumen reserves occur in 3 major Alberta areas, Athabasca, Cold Lake and Peace River, and are found in oil sand and carbonate sedimentary formations. The 41 000 km3 Wabiskaw-McMurray deposit (historically referred to as the Athabasca deposit) surrounding Fort McMurray is largest and nearest the surface. The ATHABASCA RIVER cuts a channel through the oil sands in places, and natives used the tarry bitumen to caulk canoes before the first Europeans arrived in the late 18th century.

Ref: From Wikipedia

How can it be both "undiscovered" and "technically recoverable" oil at the same time? If it is technically recoverable, it means that it has been discovered and assessed. Or maybe I'm missing something?

Undiscovered, technically recoverable oil is what is sometimes called a SWAG, or scientific wild-ass guess. You have a rough idea of what the geology is like, so based on areas with similar geology, and assuming companies have infinite amounts of money to spend drilling, you make a guestimate of how much oil might be there unless there is something you don't know about it, and usually there is a lot you don't know about it.

Talking about undiscovered, technically recoverable oil is equivalent to counting your chickens before they are hatched. You have 12 dozen eggs, so you assume you will have 144 chickens when they all hatch. That seldom if ever happens.

In reality, not all of the eggs will hatch. All the eggs might hatch except the ones you dropped, and you dropped two cartons of 12, so you have 120 eggs left. A fox got into the henhouse overnight and ate half your eggs, so you have 60 eggs left. As a worst case, you left them out in the cold at -40 overnight, and so none of them will hatch.

The bureaucrats like printing out these estimates to four or six digits of precision, but in reality they are unlikely to have more than 1 digit of precision - and often they turn out to be wrong by 1 or 2 orders of magnitude (high or low by a factor of 10 or 100). Historically, US government agencies have overestimated reserves much more often than they underestimated, so you can't expect the odds to average out over the long term.

I teach integrated energy at a Garfield County Colorado community college, in oil shale country. I've run the numbers based on what's available and the EROEI = ZERO. Additionally, there's not enough water in the Green River available to operate a 1000MW electric plant, needed to cook the rock (like a big "Hot Dogger") - needed to get the "oil" out. While the EROEI might someday be irrelevant due to a lack of other sources, and the President can, by executive order now cancel existing water rights anywhere in this country, one can pray things don't get to that point since, if they do, we will be living in desparate times.

The soluble portion of kerogen is known as bitumen and when heated to the proper temperature can be separated from the kerogen. The bitumen can then be extracted.

That's not really true. By definition kerogen is insoluble in normal organic solvents. Kerogen is the insoluble portion of the organic hydrocarbons in shale, bitumen is the soluble portion.

Kerogen must be cracked into crude oil by heating it to high temperatures, a process which is known as retorting. OTOH, crude bitumen can be fed straight into a heavy oil refinery without any processing.

This makes bitumen much easier to extract from the formation since it can be done using solvents or more commonly just by heating it. Oil sands mines separate the bitumen from the sand using a hot water process, and in situ projects by steam injection into the formation, with the liberated bitumen flowing on its own into nearby producing wells. Kerogen must be mined and then retorted at high temperatures to convert it to oil that will flow.

In this case technically means if the price is right, however 3-4 Billion barrels is 6 months of US consumption, and for the world it is little more than a month. So you think that small addition can reduce prices in the coming years?

In years? Bakken production is in part responsible for reducing WTI prices now, today.

Bakken oil in-place estimates, from Price's 1999 - 508 billion down to to M&B's 2000 - 32 billion bbls.

Oil-in-place numbers are more or less irrelevant to the oil industry, except as a starting point for determining resources.

What is important is the recoverable oil volumes. The recovery rates in the Bakken average about 1%, which means that if you have 200-400 billion barrels of oil-in-place, your ultimately recoverable resources are on the order of 2-4 billion barrels.

If you had a technological breakthrough that increased the recovery rate to 2%, then you would have 4-8 billion barrels of resources that you could ultimately recover.

Thanks RMG. WhereWhat is the source of the 1% recovery figure for Bakken? I believe Price estimated 50% ultimately recoverable from his high side estimate.

I've seen rate of recovery estimates ranging from 1% to 12%. The most optimistic industry players are claiming anything from 5 -12 percent. The USGS probably provides the most realistic numbers (1%). But the figures are all over the ballpark with these fracking guys.

Information regarding these tight oil plays are very muddy. You have huge variance in estimates of oil in place and you have huge variance in recovery estimates.

EIA shows total US crude production rising to around 7 mbpd by 2013-2015, then slowly falling back off. A recent article claimed potential production of 3-4 million barrels per day from Bakken alone:

Robert's estimates seem to infer something on the order of 1mbpd for Bakken. So, again, a huge variance.

Then you have Eagle Ford, Monterey, Tuscaloosa, Woodbine/Eaglebine, Utica, Niobara, and Hogshooter Wash. Conservative recoverable estimates for Eagle Ford are about the same as Bakken, Monterey is much larger. The other plays are tough to research at the moment as things seem to be very speculative.

So do we end up with a huge surge of US oil production in the range of 3-5 million barrels per day (or more) minus the decline rate? We've already seen a bump from 4.9 mbpd US crude to 6.13 mbpd US crude in March. Eagle Ford and Bakken are already producing, maybe at a bit more than half peak. Development in Monterey is just starting and the other stuff is all speculative.

Still lots of threads to untangle, but the oil picture for the US seems to be improving even as the climate change picture gets uglier. Ah well, choose your poison.

Price estimated 50% ultimately recoverable from his high side estimate.

Perhaps with improved technology, we will be able to increase recoveries to 150% of original oil in place.

Oil-in-place numbers are more or less irrelevant to the oil industry

I wouldn't go that far. Reasonable reserve estimates from a conventional oil reservoir can be obtained by applying a recovery factor based on similar reservoir characteristics and drive mechanism(s). In some cases, analogy is the best we can do. And of course, these numbers are subject to change based on performance history.

Performance history is something Saudi Aramco, particularly wrt Ghawar, has plenty of.

More to the point of the original question: Recovery estimates in a fractured reservoir are irrelevant, here is why: Most of the recoverable oil is contained in the natural fractures and most of the 'oil in place' is contained in the micro-darcy rock matrix.

Recovery from the fractures is very good - possibly approaching 100% and recovery from the rock matrix is very bad - possibly approaching 0%.

Earlier estimates of fracture porosity in the Bakken by Straight, et al ca 1989 put fracture porosity in the 1% range. I think that meshes very well with a 1% (bulk) volumetric recovery factor. Reference on request(that way I will know if anyone really cares or is paying attention).

I'll give it a mental shot:

Frac Oil - Oil that is or can be produced from frac'ing
Frac Gas - Gas that is or can be produced from frac'ing
Drill Oil - oil that is or can be produced from drilling as opposed to frac'ing
Norm Oil - amount of oil you would normally get from a formation
Shale Wax - Kerogen in Shale formations;
commonly known as "rock that burns" when a lit match is applied
Extractable Oil - amount of oil that can be extracted using today's technology;
amount of oil that has a 95% chance of being extracted
Stretch Oil - amount of oil that could reasonably be extracted with the addition of all current
extraction techniques;
amount of oil that has a 90% chance of being extracted in the near future
Fantasy Oil - Oil that will take a miracle to become extractable;
technically oil that has a 5% chance of being extractable;

Nice list!

There's a famous picture (famous to me anyway) of Armand Hammer,
chairman of Occidental Petroleum, holding a burning piece of oil shale.

Corbis has it here:

You can see the typical banded layers in shale - although some is more uniformly dark.

Some oil shale and tar sands pics here:

search: bakken core pictures
A "very oil" bakken shale core is at:

A nice little article about the Bakken as well.

Picture of some of the actual Bakken crude at:

It, uhh, looks like crude oil.

Harold Hamm, the CEO of Continental, the company that led the way in the Bakken, has made similar comments about California shale.

I have a bit of a problem with "shale oil" as well, as propertly it's a X-to-liquids process, more similar to CTL than any type of "oil", even tar sands. I think we would be better off expressing this difference with "shale-to-liquids" and "STL" just as we say "coal-to-liquids". The oil shales are like a bad version of coal in other ways too, they can be burned directly as is done in Estonia, but it's certainly not first in line as a fuel source.

It may be to late to change the nomenclature, but the way it is now comes off as marketing rather than a reflection of reality. STL is a better description. It's not oil.

That said, excellent short primer on the issue.

It has also to be mentioned that since Coal is almost all carbon or carbon based (>80%), whereas Kerogen Shales might be maximum 25%, Fischer-Tropp processing of Coal, or underground coal gasification with FT at the surface, will almost certainly be cheaper and easier than processing the shales; far less volume to deal with.

My opinion is that they represent a very long-term source of petrochemical feedstocks - they don't make sense as a source of fuel, but as a mineral where EROEI is unimportant and required volumes are smaller, they are fine.

A few years ago I had an opportunity to submit a question to some Shell engineers doing a presentation at the Colorado School of Mines on their experimental low-water high-electricity process for extracting liquid hydrocarbons from oil shale. Basically, I asked if you took the same energy inputs that their process required, and applied those to coal-to-liquids, which produced the greater volume of liquids? Their answer was that at the present time, coal would yield slightly more liquids, but that there was the possibility that they could improve the yield from kerogen in the future.

It seems to me that if we are so desperate that we're going to do some sort of solid-to-liquids conversion, the large coal deposits in southern Illinois, with fairly easy access to the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers for water, would be a better starting point. Among other factors, it would be a heck of a lot closer to major markets for the product than the Colorado/Utah/Wyoming oil shale deposits are.

Also, Illinois already has a robust pipeline network for moving liquid fuels around. If I'm not mistaken, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming do not.

apparently in estonia they produce some amount of oil from shale

"Eesti Energia operates an industrial plant producing liquid fuels from oil shale. This plant is the only one of its type in the world"

production is less than 3000 b/day

"Eesti Energia is planning to expand its oil business and to build a hydrogen processing complex by 2016, creating a business that can produce liquid fuels that are of higher quality than the current shale oil and that will meet all the legal requirements for use as motor fuel. "

i don't quite understand what is the importance of hydrogen processing here.

Fairly simple chemistry..

Oil shales do contain hydrocarbons, but with long chains and sometimes unsaturated, so the formula is like:

(CH(1.5-2))n (so for instance, C8H14)

Whereas the octane you might want to produce is:


Hence, the need for hydrogen.

Not quite. Certainly one wants to crack longer chains into the correct size, but more importantly hydrogen is needed for hydrotreating to remove sulfur and nitrogen, which poison catalysts, cause corrosion, etc.

In general the heavier the oil, the higher the sulfur and nitrogen. Unsaturation, often improves octane rating. For example, I think toluene C7H8 has an 120 RON.

Your C8H14 would exist as a cyclic, possibly with one or more alkyl groups. It would not be unsaturated, although heavier aromatics are unsaturated and present. Olefins are not.

From the Hubbert Center Newsletter 1998-4 "The magic word 'oil' would raise large sums...""Organic marlstone wouldn't raise a dime"

Oil shales are reported to have been set afire by lightning strikes. The Ute Indians of northwestern Colorado told stories of "mountains that burned." Cowboys and ranchers of the region burned the dark rock in their fires, like coal. The flammable nature of the richer oil shales is basis for the title of a fascinating book by H. K. Savage (1967), The Rock That Burns. During oil shale enthusiasms in the early part of this century, stock promoters brought pieces of oil shale to Chicago street corners and set them afire. Clouds of smoke attracted crowds, and the promoters sold stock in oil shale companies.
Nature of oil shale. Shale oil comes from oil shale, but oil shale is a misnomer. It is neither a true shale nor does it generally have any oil in it. It is better identified as organic marlstone, marl being a mixture of clay and calcium carbonate. The organic material is kerogen, derived from myriad organisms, chiefly plants. Savage (1967) notes the term "oil shale" is a promotional term: "The magic word 'oil' would raise large sums of promotion money while organic marlstone wouldn't raise a dime."

Actually, when we run some projections of the recent increase in the ratio of Saudi consumption to production of total petroleum liquids, it's possible, or even likely, that the US remaining recoverable reserves will exceed the remaining volume of post-2005 Saudi Cumulative Net Exports of oil (CNE):

I thought the reason the oil shale and oil sands had the consistency of hockey pucks was because they were previously gooey oil that had since been partially decomposed by bacteria. But here Robert suggests that they actually haven't been baked for long enough? I could be wrong -- just curious which explanation is correct.

My understanding is that Alberta tar sands are 'thick' because they are the indigestible leftovers of bacterial degradation of oil. The oil flowed out of the source rock into the tar sands then all the volatiles evaporated or were eaten. On the other hand Colorado oil shale is a half-baked precursor to oil that can't flow.

I assume the 'tight' Bakken / Eagle Ford shale oil is in source rock which has never been able to flow upwards to be dispersed or trapped in geological reservoirs.

All these are mostly layers of dead oceanic microorganisms that contained 'ballast' oil that have formed sedimentary rock.

Coal on the other other hand is the remains of swampy trees and moss that have tuned into sedimentary rock.

How am I doin'? Can I get some backup here?


When one talks about oil shale they need to identify whether they are talking about places like the Bakken or Eagle Ford, which is true oil trapped in very tight rock, or the Green River Shale, which is not oil at all. It is kerogen, or the stuff that turns to oil if it is buried deep enough to cook into oil.

The Canadian Oil Sands is true oil but heavy oil because a lot of the lights have either evaporated or been consumed by bacteria. However the Green River Shale, or more correctly, the Green River Kerogen, is not oil and has never been oil. But it can be turned into oil if you cook it long enough. That is why it requires far more energy to extract than does the Canadian oil Sands.

So to answer your question Null, Robert's explanation is the correct one.

As Robert points out above it would take a lot of water if the kerogen were mined like the Oil Sands. And there is just no water except the green river, a tributary of the Colorado River. And that water is already spoken for. In fact there are fighting over it already.

Shell Oil has developed an in situ process where they cook the kerogen while it is still in the ground as described here: About Oil Shale

And a highly critical analysis of that process can be found here:
The Folly of Oil Shale - Reports Highlight the Tremendous Risks with this Dirtiest of Fuels

Ron P.

This is the only commercially viable use for oil shales (as opposed to shale oil, the "tight oil" you speak of) that I'm familiar with:

Basically, you mine the oil shales, grind them up in a crusher, and burn them. You get an enormous quantity of ash; all that crushed rock has to go someplace. Such power plants supply a fair amount of the electricity in Estonia, Latvia and, to a lesser extent, Russia. But because you're basically transporting a rock, it isn't cost-effective to ship it any substantial distance, though I do know the Estonians use it for household heat as well. The rocks themselves burn quite readily.

Shell Oil was working on a process of using heat to try to liquefy the waxy kerogen out of the shales using big electric heaters sunk into boreholes. The EROEI is probably pretty low, if it even breaks 1:1, but Shell's vision is to utilize excess wind power in the region for this process.

The trouble here is basic economics: the bituminous crap you get from this process is pretty low-grade and requires a substantial amount of additional refining to make anything useful out of it. The usefulness of petroleum largely comes from the fact that you can get useable fuels by simply fractional distilling. Kerogen wax would require all kinds of catalytic cracking to be useful, further lowering the EROEI.

Barring some miraculous, limitless new electricity and heat source, I doubt it'll ever be economically viable to produce. It's about the most roundabout way of converting electricity into a combustible fuel I can imagine; the only reason it's even being entertained is because our infrastructure is so dependent on internal combustion engines burning hydrocarbons, but from an EROEI perspective, you would be better off spending that electricity just making hydrogen by simple electrolysis and burning it in modified internal combustion engines.

That said, we could do as the Estonians do and mine the shales, crush them, and burn them in thermal power plants. The Israelis and Turks also used to burn their shale, but have since abandoned it in favor of natural gas, though the Turks still blend it with coal in some plants. Plans in Jordan and Egypt for new such plants might move forward, but, again, they would have to compete with natural gas.

As for North America, given that the shale is, in fact, mostly just hard rock and mostly occurs in areas with substantial coal reserves and very little water for steam production, I'm not sure if the BTU content would ever be able to compete with coal, nevermind that North America has much, much cheaper sources of electricity available to it.

So, yes, it's potentially a vast and great energy resource. But "potentially" ain't "economically".

More info for the interested.


Well, James "Paraffin" Young

and the oil shale industry his technology created

left behind massive 'bings' in the West Lothian area of Scotland.

I live in Linlithgow.

Thanks for this concise article describing the difference between oil shale and oil from shale formations. This unfortunately nomenclature issue is really screwing up the nation discourse and screwing up policy. And sadly it is being abused by hucksters pushing an agenda with deceptive intent.

I wonder about this definition though:

Shale oil -- the oil that can be obtained by cooking kerogen

I like that definition since it would remove a lot of the confusion. But unfortunately, it is probably far more commonly used describe the tight oil from the Bakken. And since it is mostly used that way, that ends up being the definition. :-( Hence the oil shale and shale oil confusion.

Also, the gas plays are commonly called Shale Gas plays, so the oil equivalents would be Shale Oil plays.

I wonder if that crazy Citigroup Report on USA oil production about skyrocket is completely based on this simple oil shale & shale oil confusion?

Link to the OilDrum article on the Citigroup report:

spec - But if that were the case their projection would be even more ridiculous: they would be predicting a huge increase in oil recovery from a formation that isn’t producing any oil today. At least the Bakken, Eagle Ford et al are producing oil now. So if they are using the Green River as a major contributor then they have to be anticipating a tremendous chunk of capex heading that way almost immediately. Then the simple request: please name those companies.

So you can short the stock of those companies? ;-)

If they are basing the projected future oil production on just the Bakken and Eagle Ford shale areas, do they have the reserves that would allow that much growth in those areas? There is certainly room for more growth but I can't see sustain growth of another 5mbpd from just those as being realistic at all.

I skimmed and read quite a bit of the report (13.5 Mb PDF file).

An extremely important caveat from the center of paragraph 3 page 7 should be up front in bold caps--I felt at the very least emphasis had to be added to the most important word in the whole report here.

In this current report, we indicate our
awareness of political, economic and environmental obstacles to optimizing
supply growth, but we have decided to focus on what maximum supply growth
from North American might be.

The report actually touches some of the major issues confronting the "potential" Citi is touting with a couple of telling but easily missed or skimmed past sentences ahead of each glowingly optimistic section.

This is the very first sentence of the report

For the first time since 1949, the US has become a net petroleum product exporting
country and has edged out Russia as the world’s largest refined petroleum exporter.

They make no false claim here and just let that float in the readers mind until
page 8 where, in my opinion, they do their best to get readers to conflate 'petroleum products' and 'crude' by tossing around the numbers in the way they do.

Tellingly, this past year, the US moved from being a net importer to a net exporter of petroleum products. With oil production up about 7% from end-2010 and natural gas liquids surging 11% over the same period, total US liquids production appears to have risen by 7% y-o-y to 9.2-m b/d by end-2011. As a consequence, total imports of crude oil and refined products appear to have fallen by 1.6% last year in the US alone to just under 11-m b/d by end-2011, with crude oil imports down 3.2 between 2011-average and 2010-average, and products imports down 8%, on a
roughly accelerating basis through the year. Bolstering the huge increase in net
petroleum product exports to 1.255-m b/d by end-2011 was a surge in NGL exports
over 2011 by 17% y-o-y over 2010. Extrapolating these trends and adding to it
stable domestic Mexican production and growing Canadian output and a picture
emerges which points to a clear and growing total hydrocarbon surplus for North

Following the above closely it can be gathered the US still imports more than half the crude it uses (it helps if you already know crude imports comprise the lions share of the 11-m b/d import number), however I'd be curious to see if that was the take away of the average reader.

No Citi does not mention the undercooked kerogen resource in any fashion. What they do is heavily downplay depletion by projecting very optimistic upsides to every possible oil and gas play and incorporating extremely optimistic forecasts for biofuel and other realms. Citi does a very interesting dance projecting super optimistic oil, gas and biofuel production numbers for North America in part of the report while at the same time leaning on the importance of structural changes (imbuing some of those changes and their causes with the most Panglossian glow possible) that are lowering US oil consumption in another part of the report.

The arrows on the trend lines in this chart

look ever so much like those cartoonists have used in lampoonery for a couple centuries and those who compiled Citi's report were most certainly aware of that fact.

I love how the "simulated" graph lines don't even follow in any way from the current lines. Citi Research and Anaysis apparently now means "not being able to hold a ruler properly".

Bakken oil is conventional oil (light sweet) produced from an unconventional reservoir consisting principally of two organic rich source beds adjacent to naturally and anthropogenically fractured mixed lithology limestone, dolomite, siltstone and sandstone layers. That don't fit on the bummper sticker, I suppose 'shale oil' will have to do.

Production from US tight oil formations could reach 9 mbpd total liquids by 2030 (4 mbpd of crude plus 5 mbpd of NGLs).

So said Tyler van Leeuwen from Advanced Resources International, in a talk at a CSIS conference. Advanced Resources is a consulting firm which is paid by clients to make these types of forecasts.

The projection was made using "play by play" geological models combined with economic models (including rigs, infrastructure constraints, based on EIA price projections of oil rising linearly to $140 / bbl and natural gas rising to $6 / MMBtu).

In these models Bakken production peaks at 1.5 mbpd of crude in 2020. Total recoverable resources exceed 100+ billion bbls recoverable liquid resource (about 45 billion oil and 60 billion NGL). 300+ tcf of associated dry gas will be also be produced because the liquids pay for it.

Leeuwen's talk starts about minute 11. He starts with history / addresses skepticism of tight oil. Leeuwen gets into discussion of the models / forecast around minute 19.

Other panel members generally concurred.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) held their annual conference on energy policy Tuesday. This year's theme focused transforming the United State's oil and energy policy challenges.

This year's theme was titled "Tight Oil: Possibilities, Challenges, and Policy Implications" and featured three expert panels from the energy field.

The first panel looked at technology advances in the oil industry. Michael Schaal, Director, Office of Petroleum, Natural Gas, and Biofuels Analysis, Energy Information Administration moderated the discussion.

The next group looked at the existing infrastructure challenges facing the transportation, refining, and natural gas processing. The last panel talked about the ties between politics, the economy and environmental issues

"...North America has the potential to produce 22 million barrels per day..."

Of course, there are regulations standing in the way. Dang regulations. If not for regulations we'd all be knee-deep in crude.

Those pesky regulations. The same ones that protected us from the housing collapse. Oh, yeah, we got rid of Glass Steagall, didn't we.

So what I wonder is what our environment would look like if we didn't have regulations in the US? Probably worse than the housing market looked after 08.

One interesting thing to comment on about Scarmani's post:

The projection was made using "play by play" geological models combined with economic models (including rigs, infrastructure constraints, based on EIA price projections of oil rising linearly to $140 / bbl and natural gas rising to $6 / MMBtu).

Notice the assumption about price. It means that the oil & gas will be so expensive to produce that it will require prices that high to cover the CapEx on wells with horrific decline rates.

So much for Gingrich & his "$2.50 gas". Even if we accept the consultants' optimism about the 9mbd production potential, the US can only reach it if petrol is even more expensive than now. Can someone please tell Fox News?

So anyone want to chime in on whether this 9 mbpd is remotely possible? Sounds ridiculous to me but I haven't look at the numbers.

A production forecast without a price is meaningless. I think this is true about peak oil as well which too is dependent on the price of oil that economy can sustain. My guess is that 10 years ago we would have projected much less economic growth and oil demand based on an oil price of $120/barrel than we are currently seeing. With that production would have been much lower and the data would have clearly shown that oil production peaked in 2005. As Rockman has pointed out numerous times- the Bakken is not being drilled because of new technology but rather because the price of oil makes it economic to do so.

IMO the demand for oil has held up remarkably well in light of $120 oil particularly in the developing world. I would have forecasted (incorrectly)that the developing countries - particularly India would have been more severely impacted by rising prices than the developed world.

However, I may still be proven right. India is running a mammoth current account deficit -one of these days there maybe a massive run on the Rupee that will cause local prices of oil to jump to levels that will collapse demand. The government has already run out of room to subsidize oil and in order to deal with their budget deficit is dialing back subsidies.

A production forecast without a price is meaningless.

If you look again, you will see the price forecast:

The projection was made using "play by play" geological models combined with economic models (including rigs, infrastructure constraints, based on EIA price projections of oil rising linearly to $140 / bbl and natural gas rising to $6 / MMBtu).

They are predicting prices well north of today's. And I'm a lot more convinced by their price projections than their geological ones.

$140/bbl. So what's the chance of the world being able to handle this price? I'd think we'd need far greater efficiency for this to work.

And what about climate change? How much extra harm does all this greenhouse gas emission create? Looks like lots of trouble, even if these estimates seem very optimistic on the supply side.

9 mbpd is quite a lot. But I guess it's possible if you're running 20-30K rigs in the US under a sustained oil price of $140 per barrel. It's like rig Armageddon. No wonder these guys are hell-bent on killing the electric car.

So anyone want to chime in on whether this 9 mbpd is remotely possible? Sounds ridiculous to me but I haven't look at the numbers.

I'm starting to read more and more along those lines.
Speakers detail potential Permian Basin still holds

Schuyler cited some experts who say by 2015 the nation will be producing 9.1 million barrels, equal to its 1970 peak. Where will the additional production come from? Schuyler said 5.5 million barrels a day will come from what he called the "Big Three" oil shales: The Permian Basin, Williston Basin and Eagle Ford.

"The Big Three, in four or five years, will be producing as much as the rest of the country is producing today" at 6.2 million barrels a day, he said. The Permian Basin, which peaked at 2 million barrels a day in 1973 and fell as low as 750,000 barrels a day, is now producing about a million barrels a day and by 2015 is expected to be producing 1.9 million barrels a day.

Thanks for picking that up and posting it.
I went to the CSIS website
and went through the presentations (pdfs) on the right side of the page.
I don't get the sense that the US will be a net exporter anytime soon but if the stuff in the presentations is even remotely correct the near term oil situation (<2030) may not be quite as bad as I had thought. Even so, the US will still be relying on imports.


Several of the ASPO-USA Conferences I attended had excellent presentations about the shale oil/kerogen "refining" efforts. But when you go to the ASPO-USA website, those presentations are no longer available, which is to say they can no longer be used to educate the public--the exact opposite of ASPO-USA's stated mission. I thought it very powerful when at Denver Shell's presentation admitted that commercial development would likely never occur, with a similar admission made at Houston. So, while I must applaud Robert's attempt to explain the very important distinctions between shale and tight oil, this isn't a substitute for the ASPO-USA presentations.

The oil production from US rises sharply as per report today.

You guys predict peak gas for years and it is wrong.

Same for peak oil.
It will be peak oil, but not this time.
Digging up all reasons to defend a belief seems ridiculous in front of the facts.

The extent technology can change production has been too under- estimated.
There will be multi-peak for oil, just the same as for natural gas.
Each new technology brings about a new Hubert Curve by itself, I suspect.

I have been following this site for years and I am giving up now.
Good luck.

Thanks for the time, but absolutely no thanks for the poor predictions.

You've been a member for 7 weeks and 6 days and this is your first comment. English is clearly not your first language. Perhaps that is why you cannot understand the concept of Peak Oil, which happens to be a proven scientific theory. Ta!!

Yes English is not my first language.

Please note that I need not be registered as a member before I can follow this site.

You guys have been predicting peak gas since 2006 or 2007? How about now?

That is the fact, ok.

Goodbye! See you 5 years later i.e. April 4, 2017, and let see if peak oil have been reached or not, ok?

So, now after all those years you want to engage in a discussion. By gas, I assume you mean natural gas, which no author at this site has predicted as having peaked. Even Julian Darling was unwilling to predict natgas as peaking prior to 2035, and that was his position back in 2000. The resource is evaluated as being global, although national studies and predictions have certainly been made. As for oil (C+C), the data show it has peaked. And since you have made the challenge, it is up to you to provide data and their sources to prove your challenge. Otherwise, your words/assertions are meaningless.

I surrender.

Your willingness to cede your position begs the question as to why after having said you've followed this website for as long as I've been a member you chose to make your assertions.

Probably because English is not my first language.

Does not having English as your first language impede your abilty to reason or to ask questions? As you should have noted, we do a lot of questioning here and in the process seek to be informative and educational, while trying hard not to be too confrontational. For example, if you revisit your initial comment, you can rework your assertions into questions seeking confirmation, which would have been far more productive.

Albert - you are finding out what I have always known about this site. If you don't believe in "peak oil" (another name for "doom", as in the end of modern society as we know it) you will be attacked, ridiculed and hounded until you leave the discussion.

You are substantially correct. Hubbert was wrong. He wasn't just a little wrong, he was way off. The reason he was wrong is the same reason the doomers here are wrong. NOBODY knows how much recoverable oil there is.

The reason we don't know is because exploration is expensive and oil companies don't do it until they have to. The government has also put many areas in which we know oil deposits exist off limits. Nobody knows what technology will bring us in the future that will make "unrecoverable" oil deposits viable either.

Most of the time the deposits that are found are drastically UNDERESTIMATED. Anyone claiming we are near "peak oil" is claiming to know the unknowable. That puts their credibility in question immediately. This site should be renamed "the peak oil drum".

Like the AGW crowd, these people have cobbled together a theory that is no longer falsifiable. When they are called on the fact that new discoveries are occurring every year, they just kick the "peak" down the road a few more years.

We have people who are emotionally invested in the notion we are running out of resources even though North America is sitting on a treasure trove of hydrocarbons. They are basically disciples of Malthus and Paul Ehrlich with a slightly different spin on their doomsday story. Nothing will change their minds.

Hubbert was wrong. He wasn't just a little wrong, he was way off.

I actually cover this in my book. There is a lot of mythology around Hubbert's predictions. I cover how badly he underestimated global resources, and detail what his predictions really were.

Anyone claiming we are near "peak oil" is claiming to know the unknowable.

From Chapter 15 of my book:

The primary message that I hope readers take away from this book is this: When it comes to energy, there is no free lunch. There are always trade-offs. Politicians often end up dictating our energy policies based on the perceived desires of the electorate, but the electorate is often woefully uninformed about energy issues. This often leads to ineffective or counterproductive energy policies. Hence, the first step toward improving energy policies is ensuring that citizens are well versed in energy issues.

The second major message I want readers to take away is that, despite assurances from people that there will be adequate supplies of oil for the next 50 years, or warnings from others that peak oil will soon send the world back to the Stone Age, the future is uncertain. So we have to plan for various possibilities.

Well I had written a sarcastic comment poking fun at the group mentality going on here, that you must believe or be attacked. But that comment was quickly removed... You have a right to believe what you want of course, but still, the facts don't support what you are saying. Hubbert's predictions about various peaks were uncannily accurate. We can make a very good estimate about how much recoverable oil there is, because you are probably aware of the graph showing the history of global conventional oil extraction and discoveries. The peak in global discoveries was 40 years ago. And, right on cue, like it has been with almost all countries on an individual level, global extraction rates have also peaked recently... 40 years later. Global oil extraction rates haven't increased in 7 years. You are absolutely correct that new discoveries are happening every year (what else would you expect, with the planet being scoured so intensely right now due to the scarcity of oil outside of the US). What you neglect to mention is that global oil DISCOVERY RATES are several times less than global CONSUMPTION rates. Therefore, it will be physically impossible to increase global extraction rates going forward absent some monumentally massive and easily exploitable discovery, which we can be very certain will not happen because we have already looked everywhere and all the discoveries nowadays are small and scattered.

Of course there's the unconventional oil sources like the ones discussed in this post, and the oil sands. But those are difficult, slow oil with low net energy return. So while they will be producing oil for along time into the future, the rates will always be low, and below demand. Hence, we have reached "Peak Oil"...

"We have people who are emotionally invested in the notion we are running out of resources even though North America is sitting on a treasure trove of hydrocarbons." Did you even read Robert's article? Could it be any more explicit? What specific statistic do you disagree with?

"The government has also put many areas in which we know oil deposits exist off limits". Well that's a pretty contorted way of confirming that we have run out of oil, in that we have used up the resources on 90% of the land and now must access the remaining 10% in order to survive! I'm sure if previous governments had originally set aside a DIFFERENT 10% of the land as parkland then THOSE areas would today be the last areas with recoverable oil left, and you'd be singing the same tune, but just in reference to a different area.

Hubbert predicted a peak of U. S. production in 1963 (he said about 1965). He added 50 million barrels to the reserve he estimated and came up with 1970 as the far end of what he considered reasonable. So he said oil would peak in 10±6 years. His predictive curve, which demands symmetry, continues to increase that date, now to about 1976, and the ultimate recoverable amount predicted by his curve has now exceeded his highest projected value in 1956 by 28 BBO.

For the World, the Hubbert curve projection continues to slide out one year for every year of production that goes by. I am a fan of Dr. Hubbert for a wide variety of contributions in geophysics and for his recognition that if you have a reasonable estimate of the ultimate resource, it constrains the production history. But his curve fails to predict production ten years out, very consistently. From 1879 on, the Hubbert Curve predicts a peak in 1-10 years every year except when the underlying curve is non-real. And there is no reason to believe in his choice of a rigidly symmetric production curve.

Current reserve estimates for the U. S. have nothing to do with what we will ultimately produce. Hubbert failed to adequately account for reserve additions, among other things. As a consequence, the discovery peak continues also to shift forward as additional reserves are added to fields at a rate of 2% per year for up to 70 years for the large ones. It has almost always been true that old fields are declining, and replacement requires very large discoveries.

There will be a peak, but to call Peak Oil scientifically proven does not come close to the truth.

A truly spectacular strawman....

I must doff my cap....

BTW, I think you meant 50 billion...

Maybe you should compare Hubbert to the predictions of CERA

According to Ivanhoe Hubbert did not demand a symmetrical curve See newsletter 97-1

Ten years ago, your comment had some merit. Today, however, it has none whatsoever as enough evidence is in with more being gathered. People like you are just averse to facts, and as expected you use none to make your case.

It never ceases to amaze me that people can say we have no problem, there are plenty of supplies -- and yet there seems to be a total disconnect since oil is over $100 a barrel.

Gas prices at $4.00 - $4.50 per gallon is an indisputable fact.

But one conveniently overlooked by people like Daniel Yergin who insist that there are no supply problems. OK, then why is oil over $100 a barrel?

$100+/barrel oil is not a "supply problem" when you work for the side selling the oil.

Tight oil supply, supply disruption risk premium, hording and speculation on bad things happening ?

"Tight oil supply,..."

That's how I have always tended to look at peak oil. Prior to the peak, spare capacity will dry up, creating higher prices and greater volatility. This was the basis of my peak lite scenario, which says you don't have to have a true peak to start having consequences. I have always stayed away from hard peak date predictions, instead preferring to discuss the problem in terms of availability of affordable and reliable energy supplies. Peak oil is one part of that equation.

And this is what kills me. All this 'amazing' extra oil requires prices to remain in the range of 80-140 dollars per barrel.

Militant Peak Oil Doomers(MPOD) are in control of this site. Wild eyed cornucopians are tolerated because they are easy to ridicule. Anyone with actual data and analysis casting doubt on the analysis of MPOD's will eventually be browbeaten, attached and banned for being too disruptive.

In my opinion, many on here are fakes who know which side of Peak Oil their bread is buttered on.

Robert and Jules seem more interested in the actual science behind peak oil.

"rolls eyes"

Militant Peak Oil Doomers(MPOD) are in control of this site.

Actually, no. The doomers are found almost entirely amongst the commenters. Gail is the only contributor who I would put in the doomer camp. What the contributors (and most regular commenters) have in common is support for the Peak Oil hypothesis and a belief that, when the peak comes, it will be the end of Business As Usual. Apart from that, there is wide divergence in nominating the date of Peak Oil and in the consequences of BAU coming to an end. I am most definitely not a doomer - as soon as society accepts the reality that BAU has definitively ended, we will be able to begin constructing a new and far better society. While a majority of society still believe that (in the popular parlance) denial is a river in Egypt, many people will endure hardship.

I guess you could say I'm a doomer, but not because I think we currently have some inherent technological inability to adapt to the new reality before it's too late, but rather because of what I have seen of human nature, and it's not encouraging. TPTB have little incentive to present the facts to the public via the media, quite the contrary actually, and already we are seeing so much blatantly false and misleading information being thrown around about how it's all the environmentalists' fault we're running out of oil (ummm I believe they have been saying for decades that we need to get off oil ... now we're actually running out and they're being blamed??) By the time it's simply undeniable anymore I have a feeling it will be too late to make significant changes going forward, simply because of the required time scales involved, and the fact that our remaining resources will be needed to address much more pressing concerns. Moreover, when the final ponzi scheme does end and the reality of resource scarcity is fully expressed in the monetary system, the world will not be a nice organized place where such things could be addressed properly. Will 6 billion people die? I don't know, who knows. Maybe, maybe not. We have clearly exceeded the planet’s ecological carrying capacity, and that has been entirely a result of unsustainable fossil fuel extraction and fresh water irrigation, so when you subtract this out, you are left with a simple Malthusian Collapse as the likely outcome.

I see the "doom" aspect being more of a systemic dysfunction of the social / economic system we have been enslaved by for over a century, which always had perpetual economic growth to bail it out of its shortcomings. Now we don't, and those problems that always existed, simmering away under the surface, are unavoidably coming to the forefront.

Sometimes the editing of the Oil Drum is heavy handed but given the absence of any discussion of Peak Oil in the Media, Oil Industry and government, I find your complaints about the Oil Drum just comical.

karlof1 : I think it's still too early to say it's peaked. EIA data show C&C production for December 2011 at a new record 75,384,000 barrels per day. Of course, it is better to look at annual data, or rolling 12 months. But it seems quite possible globally we could reach above 75 million if the Iran situation resolves (I know, unlikely!) and Saudi keeps pumping at plus-minus 10 mbpd. As one of the more senior contributors to TOD has said, we need to see the Peak in the rear-view mirror clearly before being sure. I think he mentioned 12-15 years.

C+C shows an undulating plateau. In addition, we have a slowly racheting effect on oil prices.

I don't think the issue is peak supply. The issue is more what available supply of useful fossil oil energy remains. Sure, if we spent 1,000 dollars per barrel, we could flood the market with synthetic oil we created from thermal de-polymerization. But how quickly would that oil kill the economy? Pretty quick, I'd think.

We've had oil at higher average prices than 2008 for more than a year now. And, accordingly, demand destruction and economic slow-downs are starting to crop up.

A theory is by definition unproven. A proven theory is known as a law.
I have yet to see a universally recognised theory of Peak Oil - everyone seems to have their own version! Maybe just: "There will be a peak rate of crude oil production"?
Of course, for any finite resource there must logically be a time when the extraction rate reaches a maximum.

A scientific theory is a collection of laws, data etc.. that explain a particular phenomenom. Theories do not grow up into laws.

A scientific theory can be called a "fact" if to believe otherwise would be considered perverse given the evidence. They are never "proven".

So, according to your second paragraph, a scientific theory [is] "never proven". ???

Nothing scientific can ever be proven. That isn't how the scientific method works. We are subjective, not objective observers. The object cannot be separated from the observer. Science cannot say, "This is the truth". What it can say is "This isn't not the truth, in this particular circumstance". The default is always the null hypothesis.

Basically the word "proof" is only really used for mathematics where you can logically control every variable. You can't ever "prove" something just with evidence or facts because there's always a chance (no matter how incredibly small) that they may be wrong. You can only take it to the point where not believing it would be counterproductive.

I wouldn't have stomped on it so heavily, but it was a common tactic for undermining evolution to say that this was "ONLY a theory (Wild Ass Guess)", not a Law.

I have yet to see a universally recognised theory of Peak Oil - everyone seems to have their own version!

I have said many times before that peak oil is not a theory, but rather an observation. The "theory" part would be that oil field production tends to follow a bell curve, but again this is a general observation as there are lot of areas that deviate from the bell curve.

"You guys predict peak gas for years and it is wrong. Same for peak oil."

Given that this comes in response to my post, I challenge you to find an incorrect prediction from me on peak gas or peak oil.

I surrender.

Well in case you didn't, I can assure you that you won't find any. In fact, you will find me criticizing some of the confident predictions of the timing of peak oil, hence your comment -- if it was directed at me -- was seriously misplaced.

Re Hubbert's so called predictions, I was told by the late L.F. Ivanhoe that Hubbert was well attuned to what he did not know. First and foremost he was a true scientist. According to Ivanhoe his only firm prediction was for the lower 48, excluding deep offshore. Hubbert was aware that there were many different predictions regarding likely ultimate world production. Two trillion bbl was probably the most common. Hubbert might then assume if 2T then ..., if 2.5T then ..., if 3T then... etc. With growing consumption timing to peak might not differ greatly. According to Ivanhoe he was pressured to use Two Trillion as a quasi prediction for a Scientific American article, against his better judgment. He was aware that he had insufficient data to evaluate Alaska etc. Hubbert was also aware of the possibility if extraneous factors such as wars etc. This is covered to a limited extent in the first two issues of the Hubbert Center Newsletter. Ivanhoe was my neighbor. He did not own a computer. Thus I became his volunteer internet liaison by default. Ivanhoe worked with Hubbert and I believe that they did a program together in Britain.
--- I am enjoying your well written book.

Even if someone did make a prediction and was wrong because of surprising consequences that they did not think of, as long as the next prediction takes that new fact into account then the prediction should become more accurate. Kind of how science works. Funny that.

I also can't help noticing how often climate change denial accompanies these "anti-doomer" cornucopians. This surprises me, that you think our superpowerful, "technology" isn't ever strong enough to warp the world itself. Or that you don't want another exciting "problem" to solve with your future super space technology.

I absolutely do not understand these arguements. Whatever the timing of PO, three very important things are happening:

1. Energy is becomming more expensive and this trend seems set
2. The climate we all depend on is destabilizing at an increasing rate with feedbacks now kicking in
3. Runaway population growth is rapidly consuming other remaining valuable resources

In a crisis, it is important to know what is important and what isn't- and then to take action. Even if you simply speak to a group, learn permaculture, or send emails to friends it is better than debating details. I am preparing a presentation right now- take action. We fight not because we are certain of victory but because it is the right thing to do for our children, the only noble way to live. Now I must continue- bye.

The subtitle of Robert Rapier's chapter on global warming is "How do you stop a hurricane".

3. Runaway population growth is rapidly consuming other remaining valuable resources

While I agree with the first two statements, No 3 is incorrect. Population growth is not running away. Rather, population growth is slowing. The best predictor of population trends is the Total Fertility Rate, which measures the number of children that a woman has had or is likely to have. On a world level, this has been falling for decades. It reached 2.56 in 2010 and fell further to 2.46 in 2011. Once it reaches 2.0, the population trend will have stabilised and once it falls below that, the world will be on a path to a falling population. Population doesn't fall immediately, because there is the pipeline effect of previous high fertility levels to work its way through the system, but it will fall eventually.

Current trends indicate that the world's population will max out at about 9 billion in about 2050. That's still way too many to support indefinitely, but we can overshoot our long term carrying capacity for a century or two as long as we adopt sensible economic & social structures. Capitalism, particularly capitalism US-style, would be unsustainable with a global population of 500 million, let alone today's 7 billion or 2050's 9 billion.

Yes that's an interesting observation. I wonder if those fertility rates will begin to reverse once the energy decline happens and billions are thrown back into poverty.

Also, even though population growth rates may be slowing, what's happening is that the people that are being born are expecting better lifestyles so their per capita ecological footprint is going up, which has a similar effect, and could be said to be even worse because then they become more dependent on fossil fuels. They generally want to be like us, why, I'm not sure. Maybe has something to do with western garbage TV broadcast all over the world.

I wonder if those fertility rates will begin to reverse once the energy decline happens and billions are thrown back into poverty.

When Stalinism collapsed in Russia in 1991, the former Soviet economy fell apart. It had actually been going badly downhill for a year or two before then, but in 1991 it entered free fall. Yeltsin engineered hyper-inflation to eliminate all the savings that people had in their bank accounts, while the managers of State owned enterprises started helping themselves to the assets they were managing. Life expectancy collapsed - and so did the birth rate. It has actually recovered a little in the last few years, but it is still way below replacement rate.

Birth rates won't increase above 2.0 until the bulk of the population is working on the land once more. And I don't think we'll ever get back to that.

Well, we have a problem when the world is producing 80 million more persons each year and so many of these are looking to use fossil fuels, agricultural and food and materials consumption methods that wreck the climate, destroy arable land and biodiversity, and endlessly increase the price of energy. 9 billion bicycle riding vegetarians isn't a problem. But 9 billion driving suburbans to McDonalds, Walmart, and Home Depot is a train wreck.

It seems to me that while it is highly unlikely that any significant volume of oil for fuels and such may ever be produced from the Green River shale, it is possible that as conventional oil production drops, there may be some economical use as chemical feedstock. This is typically a higher value use than as motor fuel and such, so it may justify some limited scale of development to supply the production of various materials needing oil as a feedstock.

Am I on the right track with that thought?

No. Kerogen is akin to immature coal, which renders its hydrocarbon molecular chain unsuitable as a feedstock.

The Bakken has oil there, no doubt about it. The upper Bakken and the lower Bakken are the shale seals for the middle Bakken. The middle Bakken has the tight oil. The lower Lodgepole has reservoirs of Bakken oil, it is just above the upper Bakken shale seal. The heat and the pressure caused fractures and the oil leaked through those fractures and into the lower Lodgepole. The lower Bakken shale seal is cracked from the heat and pressures and the Three Forks has reservoirs of Bakken oil from leaking through those fractures.

The results are such that if you are fracking the middle Bakken (upper portion, where the lithofacies show where the oil is present) you can expect initial production of 2000 to 4000 bpd. Three Forks/Sanish reservoirs of Bakken oil are in the 400 to 600 bpd range.

The pressures were so great, it cracked the shale seals, generated the oil and now it is there for exploitation. Still hot down there and oil is still being generated.

It is oil, not rock. Gravy, not bone.

What about the nuclear option?

OK- I'm going to throw out the science fiction question. Could this resource be turned into valuable liquid fuel by creating an on site nuclear reactor and capturing the water used as steam and then recycle it? It seems we will be pretty desperate for liquid fuel at some time- we have a lot of nuclear materials in weapons.

I know it's easy to shoot this out of the water- but when things get deperate and the profit is there- isn't this a possibility? I can see the government footing part of the bill because liquid fuels are vital to national security. Again, I don't know if this is even feasable- but I think sometimes we underestimate how committed America is to obtaining oil because we don't LIKE the solutions (including myself here).

You wouldn't need to do this for the Bakken oil, but I have seen it suggested for cooking the shale in the Green River formation.

I believe Total made this suggestion - nuclear to replace NG - a few years ago WRT cooking out the tar sands. Oddly there was not a lot of discussion for or against.

The nuclear reactor companies, particularly Canadian ones, were the ones promoting the idea of using nuclear reactors to supply process heat for extracting the bitumen from Canadian oil sands.

The oil companies more or less ignored them because producing process heat from natural gas is much cheaper, and most of the oil companies have large reserves of natural gas of their own. In fact this is the most lucrative way for them to turn their surplus cheap gas into high-priced oil.

Water. Water supplies are tight in the locations we have Shale.

While I don't see shale oil becoming a significant source of production anytime soon (the EIA's AEO2012 puts shale oil at about 2% of total US production by the year 2029), I don't think it is a resource we should ignore.

According to recent USGS surveys:

Total in-place oil shale resources(MMbbl)
Piceance Basin: 1,525,157
Green River Basin: 1,444,992
Uinta Basin: 1,318,964

or ~4.29 trillion barrels

"According to recent USGS surveys:

Total in-place oil shale resources(MMbbl)
Piceance Basin: 1,525,157
Green River Basin: 1,444,992
Uinta Basin: 1,318,964

or ~4.29 trillion barrels"

And reserves: ~ 0.0 barrels

Did you read the article?

Fascinating how people get sold on stats w/out knowing the (uneconomic) basis of their origin. People have to remember it doesn't matter how much there is, what matters is a thing called EROEI, energy returned on energy invested.

I'd like to see a TV show mini-series in which the govt. provides access sites to go after these shale oil resources. Call the show, 'Puttin' ur $ where yo mouth is'. Bring forward all the pundits and investors that think this is a realistic venture and do a show series about them blowing their money, looking like fools. It would be great fun and very educational and best of all it would end once and for all the silly pontifications regarding how much oil the US really has.

With the right package of guarantees, incentives and credits, even environmentally disastrous, negative EROI projects could be made profitable for extraction companies. I think that's what Royal Dutch Shell has in mind for Colorado's "oil shale," and for Colorado's taxpayers. Anybody who points out the absurdity of the project will be tarred as an extremist standing in the way of "job creation" and "energy independence."

I think this would only be the case if the external energy being used (natural gas) still has a high EROEI right? If the overall EROEI of the whole process is less than 1 it would violate the laws of physics. The question would then be, would GTL be more profitable than oil shale extraction, given a BTU of natural gas input.

The EROEI of GTL is around 0.6, which means you wouldn't do it if natural gas was priced at its energy equivalent value to oil - which is where it has been priced historically. This is probably worse than oil (kerogen) shale, but it has the advantage that it is easier and cleaner to do.

A more efficient method is to burn the gas directly, but the transportation system is not oriented to that. GTL is basically a way to turn surplus natural gas into liquid fuel for countries which have lots of gas but are short of oil.

The current low price of natural gas in the US is an anomaly brought about by excessively enthusiastic drilling and fracing for shale gas. At current prices, shale gas producers must be losing money, so over the long term, one would expect the drilling enthusiasm to fade away and the natural gas glut to disappear.

And now Christy Clark wants to ship it all to China via Kitimat so that will raise prices.

The EROEI of GTL is around 0.6...

That may be correct for plant inlet to plant outlet, how about on an insitu gas to plant outlet basis ?

That would have to be significantly better than 0.6, probably at least 3:1 to account for all the other things needed to suck gas out of the ground and get it distributed. But analyzing the EROEI of only the GTL portion of 0.6:1 is useful because then you can compare this with the EROEI of say Alberta oil sands with an EROEI of 5:1 (I think...) and therefore it becomes pretty obvious why the natural gas is going into the oil sands versus GTL right now, because the energy return is 10 X better.

But the EROEI for bitumen to diesel, that has to be very low. That would be a suitable comparison, in my opinion.

Dilbit has to be less than 1 - (plant inlet to plant outlet).

Maybe I'm missing something here, isn't the EROEI (plant inlet to plant outlet) less than 1 for even light sweet crude ?

It depends on where you draw your free body diagram(FBD).

But the EROEI for bitumen to diesel, that has to be very low.

The US government rates the overall energy efficiency of US oil refineries to be somewhat more than 90%, which implies the EROEI is around 0.9. But a refinery doesn't produce oil, it fractionates it into products, only some of which are fuels so the question of EROEI is more or less meaningless. You need to ask about refinery efficiency.

Dilbit has to be less than 1 - (plant inlet to plant outlet).

Dilbit? All they are doing is blending bitumen with diluent. The EROEI of that has to be approximately 1 because what goes in goes straight back out again. That's probably not the question you are thinking of, but again the question of EROEI is more or less meaningless.

It only starts to become meaningful if you do it on a well (or mine) to plant outlet (or gas tank) basis, and I think then you are dealing with an EROEI of 4:1 to 6:1 for diesel or dilbit, and 10:1 to 100:1 for conventional crude oil. (I don't think even Saudi Arabia can get 100:1 any more).

But a refinery doesn't produce oil...

Well, obviously not. But GTL doesn't produce oil either.

.... only some of which are fuels so the question of EROEI is more or less meaningless.

Aren't you quoting something more like FEROEI (Fuel Energy Return on Energy Input). That makes EROEI for GTL also meaningless.

The inputs have an energy content, the 'products" have an energy content too. Just add them up and divide the sum of products by the sum of the inputs. A black box model, if you will.

The US government rates the overall energy efficiency of US oil refineries to be somewhat more than 90%, which implies the EROEI is around 0.9.

Good, what is the EROEI for bitumen ? Close to 1 ? I don't believe it, but am willing to be proven wrong.

It only starts to become meaningful if you do it on a well (or mine) to plant outlet (or gas tank) basis, and I think then you are dealing with an EROEI of 4:1 to 6:1 for diesel or dilbit, and 10:1 to 100:1 for conventional crude oil.

That is my point. What is the EROEI for in situ GTL (plant outlet) ? That is what I am asking. If the EROEI for gas drilling and production is 10:1 then the EROEI for in situ GTL is 6:1 (based on your quoted 0.6:1).

Look at Shell's Qatar Pearl plant as an example. If you just look at gas input and diesel output, you get one answer. If you look at gas input and condensate ,NGL ,sulfur and diesel output you get a different answer. And a different answer for every gas reservoir.

In summary, saying the EROEI for GTL is 0.6 is highly missleading, a little like saying the US is an 'oil exporter'.

bud - valid point IMHO regarding mixing apple and oranges with respect to the various peaks. PO is about oil. Peak gasoline isn't Peak NG isn't. Peak GTL isn't. Each peak commodity deserves attention and there are some connections. But adding to our fuel supply changes nothing with regards to future oil production capability.

Also from what I've seen so far EROEI appears no more relevant to these various processes than in does with oil/NG drilling. They all boil down to economic and not efficiencies. GTL seems to be an extreme example of that aspect given the differential between oil and NG prices. If it takes 2 BTUs of NG to makes 1 BTU of gasoline and that gasoline sells for 4X the value of the NG then GTL plants will be built. The LNG export market proves that today. It takes energy to liquefy and regassify NG. Yet the LNG shipment delivers no more BTU's than that contained in the original NG source. LNG, by most definitions, has had a negative EROEI and appears will always.

The EROEI of bitumen production is generally in the range of 4 to 6 depending on the project and the method used. They are continuously working to improve it, because fuel gas costs money, so it is incrementally getting better.

The oil industry doesn't use EROEI, but in oil sands production you can derive it fairly easily if you have access to their internal production data, which I don't since I retired.

For in-situ projects they will have Steam/Oil Ratio (SOR), but it will be expressed as cubic metres of steam injected (reduced to a cold water equivalent) versus cubic metres of bitumen produced. For mining operations, they will have plant fuel gas consumption in gigajoules versus bitumen production in cubic metres. They will know these numbers but they won't give them to you because they are proprietary.

For a GTL plant, they will have natural gas in versus liquids out, and natural gas as fuel. You can easily determine the energy content of the natural gas input (it's often metered in BTU or GJ) and the energy in the diesel fuel output, so you can easily derive an EROEI. Generally it is about 0.6.

For a refinery, inputs = outputs, so an EROEI is not very useful. What goes in as crude oil, comes back out as product, and the heat content is about the same. The only energy loss is in fuel and electricity consumption. Refineries are typically 90+% efficient so I would assume an EROEI of 0.9.

OK the 0.6 EROEI for GTL(plant inlet to plant outlet) is on an entirely different basis than quoted for oil or bitumen.

On a comparable basis 0.6 to 60.

I think GTL is definitely more profitable than oil shale extraction where there are abundant supplies of cheap natural gas, and certainly the technology is better developed. Shell is building a $10 billion GTL plant in Louisiana, and they wouldn't be doing that if it wasn't profitable. By contrast, there are no commercial oil shale plants in the US, and none are planned.

Instead of oil shale plants we should call them kerogen to liquid (KTL) plants to make it clear that the competing technologies are gas to liquid (GTL) and coal to liquid (CTL). Kerogen is not a liquid.

Perhaps it's time for a comparison article on the various X-to-liquids processes, as we're getting to the point where they are looking possibly relevant. GTL, CTL and KTL (or STL, depending on whether you prefer to refer to kerogen or shale).

I'm starting to wonder if perhaps the party will keep going - not like today, but still going - for at least another decade or two before we really fall on our faces. All of these are last-ditch processes, but can their utility make up for their relative inefficiency? Is it better to have liquids than to go back to coal industrialism (coal powered ships, etc)?

A very large number of people commenting on this article have asserted that oil shale is marlstone. Some call it marl, which is clearly incorrect because marl is unconsolidated sediment. This is true for parts of the Green River Formation. However, there is a significant part of the Green River Formation that is not marlstone, but either argillaceous, silicic or feldspathic mudstone that is thinly laminated and a perfectly good shale. The Bakken and Eagle Ford and plenty of other rocks now called either gas shale or "oil shale" or whatever have no better claim to the shale title. Many other oil shale deposits, especially in China, are equally not marlstone.

As far as I know, science still believes in primacy of terminology. As English language authors have called these rocks oil shale since before the beginning of the twentieth century, and because the English language doesn't care in the least whether an oil shale is a rock that yields oil on heating under appropriate conditions or a rock that yields oil upon in situ fracturing under appropriate conditions, it is no misnomer to call oil shale just that. Heating of shallow mined oil shale produced usable oil before anyone dreamed up the idea of drilling for oil, much less drilling horizontally and hydraulically fracturing rock using complex mixtures of materials, so it has every reason to claim priority of use. Oil-bearing shale for the rock, the usage highlighted here, and and shale-hosted oil (an additional term I have suggested for the product) are more likely to permit differentiation of Bakken and Eagle Ford resources and reserves from Green RIver, Estonian, Jordanian, Isreaeli, Chinese, Moroccan, etc. oil shale resources and reserves.

The comments on technology, water use, and energy return on investment reflect mainly opinions, not well-founded technical facts. Those interested in real information about development of oil shale resources should look at the Proceedings of the Oil Shale Symposia from 2006-2010, posted at The water use for oil shale extraction is equivalent to that for many biofuels that can survive without irrigation, and an order of magnitude lower than that for irrigated biofuels. Published estimates indicate reasonable economics for oil shale production in the range $38-70/barrel. Estonia produces 8,000-10,000 barrels per day of shale oil, and is ramping up toward 20,000. Enefit has plans over the next decade to bring on nearly 100,000 barrels per day of production. Still small, but all energy sources have to start somewhere. Adam Brandt and Hiren Mulchandani of Stanford have described a zero carbon energy pathway for oil shale.

Jeremy Boak, Director
Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research

I like the 30 Kiloton nuclear approach.

"A very large number of people commenting on this article have asserted that oil shale is marlstone"

Actually, two people did.

"The water use for oil shale extraction is equivalent to that for many biofuels that can survive without irrigation,"

So how much water to produce a barrel of oil, and what to do with the wastewater?

"Published estimates indicate reasonable economics for oil shale production in the range $38-70/barrel."

I would think if that was true we should be seeing some pretty advanced stages of commercialization.

"Published estimates indicate reasonable economics for oil shale production in the range $38-70/barrel."

I would think if that was true we should be seeing some pretty advanced stages of commercialization.

Yeah, that is my response as well. If someone could turn oil shale into barrels of light-sweet for $70/barrel, they should be building a plant right now.

It reminds me of the people that say the automakers should be selling a 100-mile range EV for $23K or so right now. Well, if someone could do that profitably, they would and they would sell a LOT of them. A net price of $15.5K after tax-credit and cheap fuel costs would make a perfect commuter car that is completely hedged from oil prices.

They are starting to get somewhat close though . . . the Mitsubishi-i has an EPA rated 62 mile range and sells for $29,625.

"the Mitsubishi-i has an EPA rated 62 mile range and sells for $29,625."

EVs are a "no-brainer" for city driving, especially if the weather is warm year-round. The range of the battery is dramatically affected by the ambient temperature.

At the risk of getting off topic from shale oil, I think we will see those prices soon enough. The problem is it takes a while for economies of scale to kick in, so maybe in 5 years we will see that. At least in relation to gas burning cars, I think EV's may become even cheaper, although I think all prices in general will be going up in the future due to money printing and peak oil.

Oh by the way I drove my Leaf 110 km today to my mom's house. It was 3 C outside and it was a chilly ride with no heater. But I was blasting the stereo. Near the end I turned on the heat because I still had 25 km range left.

I have a Honda generator in the back in case I ever get stranded. It's kind of fun. The whole approach changes your "relationship" with energy. It's no longer just a commodity that you plug money in and get something out. It's more like I "own" that energy in my batteries and it's up to me to manage it in my daily life. This would become even more so if I hook up the solar panels and use those to power it. This is a major advantage of home energy "production" IMO, because it decentralizes it and forces people to become familiar with energy, rather rather than just plugging something into the wall and expecting it to always work, and when it doesn't then just screaming about it. Now we have the absurd expression of that disconnect with the world of energy, with all the consumer groups complaining about high gasoline prices. Well, if they want a fair price for gasoline, it should be much higher than it is. A scarce, irreplaceable resource SHOULD be going up in price. Don't they understand basic supply and demand?

Well, if they want a fair price for gasoline, it should be much higher than it is. A scarce, irreplaceable resource SHOULD be going up in price. Don't they understand basic supply and demand?

Cheap oil enabled the personal transport habit. If oil was priced according to it's unique scarcity you would most certainly not be driving a Leaf. Hybrids and electrics are akin to opportunistic parasites, feeding on the dystrophia of BAU.

The leaf et al is simply an endeavour to persue an unsustainable ideal. They are a last ditch attempt at continuing BAU, there is a lot of money to bled from the consumer until reality comes down. The oil companies most of all require alternatives to an all out run on the remaining oil reserves. They NEED hybrids and electric vehicles. Much better to facilitate a managed depletion so we can consume every leaf and blade of grass like a plague of locusts.

It's really amazing how unbelievably well we have managed to keep the BAU ball rolling for so long. Since Hubbert's predictions, the population of the world has more than doubled, how can one imagine at what rate we would be consuming the earth, with nine billion humans. We've practically depleted the rivers, oceans and soil with the run up to seven billion. What will the consequences be of the run up from seven to nine billion over the next twenty years?
We depleted, polluted and caused extinctions galore simply getting to three billion humans.

Many think new and modern technology is the answer. Technology and engineering got us to precisely where we are now. If that's regarded a good outcome pity help us.

I don't disagree with all the ravages we are inflicting on the planet (and thus ourselves -- I mean, if the planet can't support a few thousand wild tigers then how can it support 9 billion people?!?!?). But I think your derision of technology and engineering is somewhat overblown, because without current technology we would likely be dying by the 100's of millions right now, simply because the Earth's ecological carrying capacity can't support that many people without 1) additional energy inputs, and 2) additional irrigation inputs. In that case the ravages on the natural world would be much worse than what we currently see.

I think EV's COULD represent a continuation of BAU, but I am more optimistic than this. My Leaf requires no oil to power it. With solar panels on my roof, no corrupt banker would be getting any of my money. Fossil fuels were needed only in its manufacture, and then a lot of that would have come from coal and natural gas, not oil. Therein lies the hope -- that we can intelligently use the remaining coal deposits to develop a renewable energy infrastructure. I have seen lots of estimates for how much coal remains but I have a feeling there is quite a bit.

I still don't understand why a billion EV's being powered by solar panels for "eternity" (all of course manufactured from coal, oil and natural gas) could not provide the world with an ability to continue with some semblance of efficient food production and distribution services. The world has millions of miles of roads and I can't see them being ripped up and / or only used by bicycles, donkeys and slaves. The world's deserts are blasted with immense amounts of sunlight energy that is currently unharvestable and this could provide the additional energy beyond that sequestered by the biosphere that would be required to maintain 9 billion people once population growth rates slow and hopefully even reverses. With such an infrastructure in place we could use that electricity to synthesize hydrocarbons to replace EV's and solar panels as they retire. Technically, I think it could be done, the question is will we get it together.

"Technically, I think it could be done, the question is will we get it together."

What magnifies the problem considerably are choke points in the economy that are controlled by relatively few people. Utilities are an example of this. In a true free market, the adoption of Wind and Solar would be significantly higher, in my opinion. However, because of the close relationship between the Utilities and the Coal Industry that goes back 100 years, a small group of people relative to the overall population has been able to, if not strangle, at least seriously disadvantage Wind and Solar. Consequently, a much greater amount of determination is needed to make things happen than otherwise would be the case, ie, getting both Houses of Congress to compel the Utilities to move more aggressively on renewables. Since the Senate can be bought for a song (and maybe some pretzels), this is a very hard task indeed.

Agreed, I think our biggest hurdles ultimately come down to political and corporate corruption.

And then we have the fascist media tearing into any $5000 rebate incentive on EV's as an unjustified market advantage and waste of government funds. EV's should have to compete in the market on their own merit, they proclaim. Well, the entrenched O&G industry enjoys far greater systemic subsidies, conveniently hidden from view to most.

I think the problem with the economics of oil shale production is that the EROEI is so poor. As oil prices increase and the market price of oil increases, the costs of energy inputs also increase in lock step. The value of the energy input is always greater than the value of the energy returned, no matter what the price is, so a profitable price is always just out of reach.

Oil sands have become economic because the EROEI is better - at least twice as good as oil shale. In oil sands production, as oil prices rise above a certain level, the value of the energy returned exceeds the value of the energy inputs, and past that point it is a profitable enterprise. With oil over $100 we are well past the break-even point. It also helps that the natural gas for fuel is very cheap compared to oil these days.

As a result, I don't think companies will have much interest in producing oil shales until the oil sands are depleted, and I don't think that will happen for a long, long time given the vast size of the oil sands.

"I don't think companies will have much interest in producing oil shales until the oil sands are depleted..."

I have said exactly the same thing; there are a lot of oil sands out there that will be produced first.

Do you think it will make a difference that the oil sands are in Canada whereas the oil shale is in the US

Not terribly. If they were relying on Orinoco heavy oil, on the other hand ...

American companies probably have as good or better access to Canadian oil sands than they have to US federal lands, and they have been heavily involved in oil sands development. Since they have a choice of doing either oil sands or oil shale, and the EROEI of oil sands is much better, that would be their first choice.

In fact, the first and biggest oil sands producer, Suncor Energy, was originally a subsidiary of Sun Oil Company of Philadelphia. However, Sun Oil (now Sunoco) spun off its oil sands subsidiary to Canadian investors some years ago, and ironically the original subsidiary is much bigger and makes more money than its former parent company, which has been shutting down its refineries (notably in Philadelphia) due to low profits.

Other American companies in the oil sands have also spun off their interests to Canadian investors or Chinese companies. For American oil companies, it's all about money, and if somebody offers them enough cash, they will take it because it looks good on the annual report.

The problem with EROEI is that it makes no distinction between the utility of different types of energy. The utility is what determines the price of that energy. Thus using the oil sands as an example if they are using stranded natural gas as the energy input (which within the short term horizon of a for profit enterprise is zero utility/value) they could keep producing oil sands even with a negative EROEI. As Rockman has pointed out it is all about cashflow.

While on a long term basis EROEI is a perfectly valid concept- it is completely useless for predicting short term economic decision making.

Short term decision making is what you do NOT do when planning an oil sands or oil shale project. They take years to build and produced oil steadily for decades, if not generations.

Historically natural gas and crude oil have been priced at similar levels on an energy equivalent basis, and that is why many oil companies lumped them together and talked about barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) of reserves and production. The conversion factor used was usually 1 barrel of oil = 6 thousand cubic feet of gas.

At this point in time it is misleading because on a financial basis the ratio is about 1:50. Natural gas is trading for about 1/8 of the price of its energy content compared to oil and so BOE reserve statements aren't very meaningful. Some companies still use them because their intention is to confuse the investing public.

Oil companies are not going to use current gas prices in their planning because they know that current gas bubble will probably collapse and the price will rise closer to its historical relationship to oil. They are going to use something that is more realistic over the long term. If they use the historical ratio of 1:6, that will gives the same results as using EROEI.

One thing they have to watch out for is that natural gas prices sometimes rise ABOVE their energy value compared to oil, and that would really wreck the economics of an oil shale project. They will put a risk factor for that happening into their calculations, too.

Water that has been used for "irrigated" bio fuels retains it's usefulness as water in the cycle, rather than taking on new life as toxic waste.

I posted a similar question on Robert’s website but I believe this is a better place to post it (I would love to hear Robert’s and some of the other expert’s opinions).

I am ignorant about the oil industry. But I have been reading very closely on this wonderful site. I am completely impressed with the level of dialogue here.

It seems to me that the main complaints about Oil Shale are that it is not commerciably viable, it is environmentally bad and needs lots of water.

Since the consequences of peak oil seem to range from kinda bad (Rapier) to god awful (Darwinian) it would seem to me to be worth our tax dollars or Helicopter Ben’s printing press to subsidize the development of the oil shale so that we don’t have severe consequences.

I would rather blow US tax money on this than bailing out banks.

I am not knowledgeable enough to know if the Peak lite or Doomer scenario is correct. Both Rapier and Darwinian (and many many others ) seem very knowledgeable on the topic.

I realize climate change is a very serious problem too, but believe nothing (outside of some wacky geoengineering miracle) will be done about this.

I feel guilty that I have been scaring the shit out of my friends and family about this and I am thinking we could actually get out of this problem (atleast in the US; I am a Yank in Australia and the Aussies have some oil shale and shale gas as well mates!).

Am I way off?


National Defense Resources Preparedness Act.

I haven’t seen this mentioned on the oil drum. The US president signed this act on March 16, 2012 that gives him complete control over energy production and water resources among many other things in PEACE TIMES.

Combine this with the act that allows the US military to arrest anyone without due process and it looks somebody is contingency planning for martial law.

PSS: I plan on buying your book Robert. I am impressed with your work.

Since the consequences of peak oil seem to range from kinda bad (Rapier) to god awful (Darwinian) it would seem to me to be worth our tax dollars or Helicopter Ben’s printing press to subsidize the development of the oil shale so that we don’t have severe consequences.

I would say that it comes down to "What are your other options?" If, for instance, the energy return for shale oil is poor, it may make more sense just to push for more penetration of natural gas vehicles, instead of using the natural gas to inefficiently produce shale oil (and a lot of oil-laced wastewater).

I am not knowledgeable enough to know if the Peak lite or Doomer scenario is correct.

To be honest, nobody does. I emphasize that in the book by taking a look at some confident predictions that failed to materialize. So what we need to do is scenario planning. To me it is like homeowner's insurance. Even if you are sure your house won't burn down, you have homeowner's insurance just in case. So just in case the scenarios turn out to be much worse than most people think, we need to have plans in place for coping with that situation as well as we possibly can.

I have been exploring the net energy return issue lately and I hope to have some kind of a more rigorous numerical analysis to back it up soon, but the issue is that there is an "energy cliff" of minimum net energy return required to maintain a society. If the EROEI of oil sand is 5:1, well that only counts the energy in versus energy out. You also need to factor in all the equipment that enabled that extraction and upgrading to occur, all the workers who make it all happen, then the supporting communities that the workers live in, and finally, the national society which they are all a part of. All of these extras require energy, in excess of what is squirted back into the EROEI calculation. Tentatively, I think the minimum would be something like at least 10:1, maybe 20:1. But I will attempt to better quantify this soon.

Therefore, it can be seen that oil sand (5:1) and oil shale (2:1) are totally useless by themselves. We could have 200 trillion barrels of the stuff but it's inconsequential, because what drives the extraction is the overall EROEI, and this must be above the energy cliff of say 20:1. The only reason oil sands operations work today is because of all the natural gas that's brought in externally, which I would guess has an EROEI of 40:1. Therefore, overall EROEI is 5 times 40, or 200:1. But we will run out of natural gas long before we run out of oil sand (or oil shale), and when this happens our only other option will be to substitute that with another high net energy return fuel, and the only one that's standing out is coal. And then when coal disappears? That's it! No more oil sands extraction, no more society! Unless we can develop alternative energy sources in the meantime with high EROEI. Well, wind seems to get 20:1, not too bad. Solar, 10:1 to 20:1. Nuclear, who knows. That one's complicated IMO.

It can also be seen from this logic that an incremental improvement in oil sands EROEI from 5:1 to say 6:1 due to efficiency gains or new process breakthroughs (and these breakthroughs themselves will experience the law of diminishing returns as they approach the limits of the laws of thermodynamics) won't have much of an effect because most of the overall net surplus energy doesn't come from oil sand.. What really matters is the primary driver, natural gas, with my estimated EROEI of 40:1.

So we better get on with it, because if we wait until there's no more natural gas or coal left (and when we run out of conventional oil the consumption rates for gas and coal will skyrocket), we will be out of luck, even with 300 billion barrels of oil sand still sitting in the ground.

You don't per se need natural gas to produce oil sands. Any convenient source of process heat will work. One plant I know uses bitumen gasification to produce fuel gas - they gasify the heavy ends of the bitumen to provide fuel.

The nuclear industry is promoting nuclear reactors to provide energy, and although the oil companies haven't shown much interest. there is lots of uranium to be found nearby in the Athabasca Basin. If all fails, there is a lot of coal available not too far away to fire the boilers.

However, there are huge amounts of shale gas available nearby in Northeast BC, and companies will bring natural gas down from the Arctic if supplies get short, so a natural gas shortage is not really likely.

Yes, all you need is process heat which can come from virtually anything, including burning the less valuable portions of the oil sand. Besides the issue that this reduces the stated recoverable size of the reserve, this is also limited by the energy cliff, because you still have to be above it for the overall process. You still have to extract the bitumen and then separate out the heavier fractions, then burn them in something, and that doesn't happen by itself.

I believe conventional nuclear has an EROEI of 10:1, and they are currently not even economical, so it's getting close to not being a viable option.

There are huge amounts of shale gas available ("centuries" according to Obama). How will those quantities and prices change when America runs out of oil? Will the rate of consumption change? Wasn't it you yesterday explaining how Louisiana is putting a new GTL facility up (maybe it was someone else, I thought it was you)? Already the transition is starting.

I am not knowledgeable enough to know if the Peak lite or Doomer scenario is correct. Both Rapier and Darwinian (and many many others ) seem very knowledgeable on the topic.

First Homie, I am definitely a doomer but not because of peak oil. Peak oil will likely on;u hasten the collapse by a decade or so. But the collapse will not be primarily because of peak oil, it will be primarily because of overshoot. If we were not in deep, deep overshoot we would likely survive peak oil for perhaps half a century anyway. But it is all the other problems of overshoot that will cause collapse.

And like you I am not knowledgeable enough to know the extent of the damage that peak oil will cause. But I have been studying overshoot for almost half a century now, and I am knowledgeable enough to know the eventual result of overshoot. And for every species on earth, overshoot has always resulted in die-off. Humans will be no exception.

Ron P.

It amazes me how idiotic our politicians are, to go around saying that there is so much fossil fuels-- unless they are purposefully trying to mislead us. A simple wikipedia search on 'peak' oil, gas, coal, uranium, etc., clears things up quite nicely. This isn't difficult to research, in this information age of the internet. Total peak 'net' energy from all fossil fuels is probably now, or if not, sometime over the next few years. This is it, this is LATOC, we are still in depression, SGS unemployment is 23 percent, we are using 3 million barrels a day less oil than in 2006, and oil is over $100, even for WTI let alone Brent, even in a recession. We need a wake up call, an end to growth in population and economy.

More promising, in contrast, is the outlook for nuclear fuels. This isn't grad school in nuclear engineering stuff, just a simple google search or 'peak uranium' search on wikipedia will do. It amazes me that our cornucopian politicians never talk about uranium.

The only explanation is that they are complete idiots, or they too are tired of the infinite growth paradigm that is killing us all, and are just throwing out all of these false hopes to appease the public and make it look like we are trying as we power down. I suspect, it is a combination of both factors, but more idiocy than being against growth. Either way, our imperative is assured: breeder reactors using very low grade ores-- an all but inexhaustible source of energy. I see a bright future for us centuries from now, but it will be different. Hopefully, we will learn our lessons from the 'greatest depression' that lasted most of the 21st century until fast reactors took over. We will hopefully learn our lesson, and change the modern banking system to not be dependent upon ever increasing amounts of energy, and use energy more wisely. If so, there is barely enough uranium to power 5 billion people at an energy use rate of Europe forever-- until the sun consumes the Earth. Solar and fusion won't work, due to intermittency, cost, water requirements, and the neutron problem for fusion. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for this to get out. Only time will tell.

Any Oregonian peakists out there? I live in Eugene, and am interested in meeting new people.

It's probably premature to talk about "Peak Natural Gas" because there are very large amounts of natural gas in the world that are stranded in various countries with no pipeline to a major consuming areas. When the price of gas rises high enough, it will justify LNG facilities to ship it to market.

The amount of coal in the world is just mind-boggling, but much of it is located in inaccessible areas with poor transportation. There is probably more coal in Alaska than in the rest of the US, but there is no way to get it to market, and there is probably more coal in northern Canada than in Alaska, with similar lack of transportation. So, peak coal is totally dependent on price, particularly the price of more transportable competing alternatives.

The reason for the rapid burn-up of the world's oil supplies is that oil is the most easily transported form of energy on a global scale.

Rocky – Is diesel the only option for GTL or just the more economical? Also, could the Shell GTL plant in La. be same rumor I heard of Sasol building one in Calcasieu Parish or are they two different projects?

The Fischer-Tropsch process that Shell its using produces straight diesel fuel. Shell has a huge GTL plant in Qatar that produces diesel fuel so maybe they want to use the same design. Exxonmobile has a GTL process that produces gasoline, but maybe they don't want to share it.

Shell is at heart a European company though, so I assumed they had their eye on the European market when they made the decision to build the plant.

Yes Sasol is ALSO building a GTL plant in Louisiana. They are two different projects. It looks like Louisiana will become the GTL capital of the USA.

Sasol is also talking about a GTL plant in BC or Alberta in partnership with Talisman. Talisman has enough gas reserves in NE BC to supply two 48,000 bpd GTL plants, so they may add an second phase to the first one.

The Fischer-Tropsch process that Shell its using produces straight diesel fuel.

What comes out of the FT reactor is long-chain hydrocarbons that are waxy. In fact, when I visited Shell's Bintulu plant, they told me that they focus on waxes there because they make more money with them. But those waxes can be cracked to smaller chain diesel-length hydrocarbons using normal refining operations. So the production of diesel is optional for their process.

So this material is essentially rocks that burn. What is the energy content of these Green River Basin rocks that burn as opposed to coal. Would these be equivalent to a brown coal or better?

try: the energy density of a baked potato.


... Pound per pound, oil shale contains just one-tenth the energy of crude oil, one-sixth that of coal, and one-fourth that of recycled phone books. Shale outcrops are common in Colorado, but in prehistoric times the Utes did not use it for heat; why bother when you could gather pine or juniper instead? In poor countries, millions of people heat their homes with dried manure. Dung cakes have four times more energy than does oil shale. Oil shale is a fossil fuel—but just barely. Searching for appropriate low-calorie analogues, we turn to foodstuffs, the realm of Weight Watchers. Oil shale is said to be “rich” when it contains 30 gallons of petroleum per ton. An equal weight of granola contains three times more energy. The “vast,” “immense,” and “unrivaled” deposits of shale buried in Utah and Colorado have the energy density of a baked potato. If someone told you there were a trillion tons of tater tots buried 1,000 feet-deep, would you rush to dig them up? Take a memo, Senator. Oil shale has one-third the energy density of Cap’n Crunch, but no one is counting on Kellogg to become a major energy producer soon. In other words, no one is drilling in the cereal aisle. The mystery is not that we lack an oil shale industry—it’s why we’ve spent billions trying to develop one.

A quick check of:

Crude Oil 46.3 MJ/kg
Bituminous Coal 24 MJ/kg
Carbohydrates 17 MJ/kg
dried cow or camel dung 15.5 MJ/kg
Lignite 14 MJ/kg
Household waste 8 MJ/kg
richest oil shale 11.6 MJ/kg
"average" oil shale 4.8 MJ/kg
says the richest is approx 60 gallons/ton.
We'll give crude oil a density of 1 (it will be less for all but the heaviest crudes).
60 gallons = 227 liters --> at density of 1, that's 227 kg.
227 kg * 46.3 MJ/kg = 10,510 Mega Joules.
1 ton = 907 kg.
10510 MJ/907 kg = 11.6 MJ/kg - so the richest oil shale is worse than lignite.

But the richest (from 25-100 gals/ton) are only 16% of the resource.
Most oil shale is less than 25 gals/ton (I'll use this as my "average"), which is 25/60 * 11.6 MJ/kg = 4.8 MJ/kg.

Hey buddy, can you spare a spud?



This is embarrassing. I live in Melbourne and most of our electricity comes from brown coal (i.e. lignite). Now I discover that we'd be better off burning cow manure.

You need to add in the cow burps & farts into the CO2 footprint. ;-)

We already have the sheep & cattle. Indeed, a significant number of cattle are "finished off" in feedlots after growing up grazing on grass. The feedlots generate lots of waste, which could usefully be collected instead of just disposed of.

Without butter or sour cream.

Yeah, adding butter or sour cream would make it more like dilspud (diluted potato). Give it a catchy name like Western Idaho Select and refiners would be stumbling over each other.