Thursday, September 25, 2008

Petroleum Science 101

There’s a political TV ad running in Colorado right now, and it claims that there’s more oil under the Colorado mountains than under the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As Jack Parr used to say, “I kid you not.” Actually, this is more of a half truth than a falsehood. The deception lies in the fact that there’s such a thing as oil—and then there’s OIL. The stuff under the Arabian peninsula is called, “sweet crude.” It’s pure petroleum, and it’s in liquid form. The stuff under the Colorado mountains is called, “oil shale.” It’s petroleum that’s locked into solid rock layers. There’s lots of it, but here’s the deception, the oil needs huge amounts of water and heat to be released from the rock. Colorado, despite its winter snowpack, is a desert environment. There simply is not enough water available to unlock the oil from the oil shale in quantities that would be significant. The required electricity to generate the heat is also in short supply, so the oil is “there,” but unavailable. Petroleum industry honchos aren’t stupid people. They wouldn’t have spent the last half-century investing in petroleum infrastructure on the other side of the planet if their product needs could be met right here in this country (see my blog 7/28). Most of the political rhetoric about unlocking domestic oil sources seems to ignore this basic fact.

Everything about the global energy problem involves possible solutions that are deeply rooted in science and engineering, and thanks to the Christian Right’s influence working through the Bush administration, science has been crippled in the United States during the last eight years. Only 18% of our high school students study any kind of science, and the majority of the world’s scientists and engineers are no longer working in this country. By following influencers like Dobson and Limbaugh, a nation can’t let a fanatic religious and ideological fringe take it back to the Dark Ages, and then expect to face the challenges of the 21st Century with scientific enlightenment. We’re either going to be medieval, or we’re not, and we can’t have it both ways,

Also see: $4.00 Gas—Soon A Cause For Nostalgia

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