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Sunday, December 26, 2004


Two PDF reports addressing oil depletion concerns have recently come out of hiding from under their bureaucratic sponsorship. One from the commercial Deutsche Bank Research in Germany (Energy prospects after the petroleum age) and the other from the US governmental DOE (Strategic Significance of America s Oil Shale Resource: Volume I - Assessment of Strategic Issues).

Both articles acknowledge the dismal future of conventional oil reserves, with comprehensive summaries of the current state-of-the-art in both historical data and analytical predictions. However they lack in providing any good fundamental basis for the potential solutions they lay forth. Although they don't go anywhere near in offering up a silver bullet, the casual reader should know where they come up short. Both make the claim for oil shale and tar sands, with the DOE a bit more enthusiastic on this approach (interestingly supplying additional reviewer comments on positive aspects of shale). The bank study goes further and makes a concise claim that silicon (as in sand) has promise for collecting solar energy, although not via the conventional photovoltaic methods.

Unfortunately, the arguments they raise don't even consider the metric of energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) for oil shale. Currently hovering around 1.3 (with some estimates below 1), oil shale does not hold a candle to the value of 30 for conventional petroleum. Given the heavily reviewed nature of the DOE report, I can't find any reason for the omission of this particular metric, other than for political purposes.

For educational purposes alone, someone at leadership levels has to point out what EROEI means. Unless the powers that be start putting this in intuitive terms, we will continue to stare through rose-tinted glasses. In my opinion, all it really takes is for us to make an analogy with worker productivity.

Say that EROEI equates somewhat to worker productivity. Petroleum EROEI is like the businessman that can get the productivity of 30 workers out of a single individual investment. On the other hand, oil shale represents getting another half a head for each worker invested. Not quite the bang for the buck most business have become accustomed to.

On the bright side, the country of Estonia gets a mention as an oil share technology partner for the USA, based primarily on their experience in unconventional shale and tar processing techniques. ... wait a minute ... Estonia? Now, that bodes well for our current predicament.


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