American Industry A Bigger Investor In Low Carbon Energy Than The Federal Government
Commentary by Harold Hough
Although the federal government and Obama like to showcase their investments in eliminating greenhouse gases and developing low carbon emitting energy, the evidence shows that their talk is just that – just hot air. The government is just a bit player in the field. Nor, is the most promising technology solar energy, despite the billions of taxpayer dollars spent on it. No, the biggest investors are American industry and the hottest greenhouse gas mitigation technology is oil shale.
Oil shale is a fine grained sedimentary rock that also has organic material in it – the same type of organic material found in coal. Think of oil shale as coal with more rock in it. However, it can burn like coal and has the same sort of potential for producing synthetic fuel. Much of the current excitement about shale oil (the product of oil shale) is from the Bakken formation under Montana and North Dakota. Some have estimated the Bakken oil reserves to be as great as 24 billion barrels of oil.
From 2000 to 2010, private industry spent $225 billion on reducing greenhouse gases. The Federal government spent less than $45 billion. The federal government spent most of its money in energy efficient lighting, wind, solar, biofuels and basic research. It also ramped up its investments in renewable energy sources like solar and efficiency during 2009 and 2010 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The result, as we all know was questionable loans to companies that were owned by major Democratic political donors, light bulbs filled with toxic mercury, overpriced insulation jobs on a few homes, and windmill farms that are chopping up endangered birds and bats at alarming rates.
In the meantime, private industry invested nearly that much just on oil shale technology – $37 billion. As a greenhouse gas emission reduction technology, oil shale increases the supply of natural gas that substitute for coal and petroleum based fuels. It may not be as “sexy” as solar energy, but it is more practical.
This information comes from a study just released by the American Petroleum Institute. It shows how oil shale has become a critical part of the nation’s attempt to lower greenhouse emissions. In fact, in the 2009 – 2010 period, oil shale represented 39% of the total investment in greenhouse gas mitigation technologies.
There are two methods for extracting the oil from the shale, mining or in situ methods. In the case of mining, the shale is mined, usually from an open pit operation, and the oil shale is transported to a crusher and retorting facility for processing. After crushing, it is heated in the absence of oxygen to remove gases and the condensable oil. The oil is then refined.
Because many shale deposits are thousands of feet underground, in situ mining is also popular. “Hydraulic Fracturing” breaks up the rock and then “scrubs the shale with a slurry of solvents and sand. Nationwide there are a handful of shale oil fields that could each contain as much as 17 billion barrels of oil, according to a recent study. That's more than the country's largest oil field, Alaska's Prudhoe Bay.
This once again proves the power of the free market in producing new low carbon emitting energy sources. While the government is spending billions on questionable investments in solar energy and hybrid cars, American industry is actually solving the problem. The oil shale deposits in the Bakken Formation under Montana and North Dakota is producing half a million barrels of oil per day, which reduces our dependence on foreign oil and reduces carbon emissions. Compare that to the taxpayer supported subsidies to financially shaky solar panel manufacturers that have gone into bankruptcy. Then ask yourself, who is better able to manage our energy policy – the government or private industry?