We have heard for a very long time now that we, the United States of America, are too dependent on foreign oil. While the percentages and numbers might change from year to year, it is a fact and it will remain so unless we do something about it. We are following the price of a barrel of oil almost daily, we watch it closer than the Dow Jones Industrials since it affects all of us in this country. The increase in oil prices in the past few years has gotten us angry and very upset but we have nevertheless accepted slowly a near doubling of the price at the pump for a gallon of gas.
Whenever the discussions center on the cost of gasoline, we wring our hands and hope that somebody does something about it, we even curtail our driving to some extent but overall, we blame the oil and auto industries and government for the problem and we call on them for “doing something about it.” The big oil companies receive the brunt of our complaints because their profits suggest that they are behind these higher fuel costs and that they are the main beneficiaries. And of course, since President Bush and Vice President Cheney are former oil executives, they are accused of being in bed with the oil companies, i.e., there is a conspiracy!
Let us look at the elementary facts (2001 Report): We are using nearly 21 million barrels of oil per day in America. We are producing about 8 million barrels of that oil domestically. Since we are exporting 1 million barrels of that oil to other countries, we are importing approximately 14 million barrels of oil per day. While we receive considerable amounts of that oil from our direct neighbors to the north and south of us, Canada and Mexico, the bulk of imported oil comes from countries in the Middle East with Saudi Arabia as a major supplier. This amounts to about five billion barrels per year, a large quantity that also plays a major part in our trade deficits.
For answers to this dilemma, people from all walks of life have been suggesting alternative energy sources such as ethanol and hydrogen as well as nuclear power for producing electricity. And let us not forget the favorite alternatives of the environmentalists: Wind and Solar power combined with substantial increases in more fuel-efficient automobiles including electric cars and hybrids. While all the above alternatives can contribute to our energy needs, they will together not substantially reduce our reliance on foreign oil imports since America’s energy needs are growing every year and will continue to grow based on future needs.
America’s Best Kept Secret
One of the best-kept secrets in our country is the fact that we are sitting on the largest oil reserves in the world. It is called Oil Shale! Some time in early 2005, the U.S. Energy Department released the results of a land survey conducted to estimate the official amount of oil approximately one thousand feet deep in the Rocky Mountains. The results were incredible, the oil reserves were found to be larger than the currently estimated/proven reserves on this planet. The numbers are staggering, there is over five times more oil (in the oil shale) here than the known reserves of Saudi Arabia. Yes, reserves of about one and a half trillion barrels of oil were found in a relatively compact area between Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The area is generally known as the Green River Formation – a rather barren stretch of land of slightly more than 16,000 square miles in size and over 80% is owned by the Federal government. This in itself is not truly a secret because the Government has known for a very long time that there was oil under ground, in fact, in 1930, the government placed protective legislation on this land forbidding anyone to touch the reserves. The reason for that was simple; buying foreign oil was much cheaper for all these years when the price for a barrel of oil was between 8 and 30 dollars. Now that oil has been costing in recent years between 50 and 80 dollars a barrel, our domestic reserves have become attractive to produce.
Based on the findings of the report by the (other source) Energy Department, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law on August 8, 2005, a mandate lifting the protective legislation on the Green River Formation, this mandate was called The Energy Policy Act of 2005.
In January 2006, the government gave six companies 160 acres of land in the area to test their oil shale drilling methods for commercial production. Since then, three companies have been cut…only three are left and are continuing their exploratory work. One company in particular, the Shell Oil Company, or more specifically the Shell Exploration and Production division has developed a revolutionary method according to an article in the Rocky Mountain News, dated September 2005, for extracting oil out of the ground. Shell’s method, which has been called “in situ conversion” is a tested and developed concept.
If we compare previous methods with this new “in situ conversion” process, it becomes immediately clear that this new one is completely environmentally friendly.
In the past, oil was extracted from the shale by means of open pit mining, crushing the rocks and heating it at the surface, with the problem of having to dispose of the leftover. Open pit mining has been and still is the number one enemy of environmentalists and conservationists.
In this new (the in-situ conversion) process, there is NO OPEN PIT MINING. After the oil has been extracted from the extraction site, the only thing left behind is a hole similar to a conventional oil well, which is plugged at the end.
After extraction is complete, water is pumped down into the well. This water will turn into steam. The steam is collected and gunk stripped out, repeated until the water comes out clean. At this point in time the Refrigeration system is removed, the ice wall melts, the holes are plugged, and the whole operation moves to the next site.
The exploration companies have been estimating the costs for such oil production at between 25 and 30 dollars per barrel, in other words it is commercially feasible and they do not need government subsidies.
Conservative estimates by a public policy Think Tank Company, the Rand Corporation, have forecasted that 3 million barrels of oil per day can easily be produced. The U.S. Energy Department estimates an eventual output of up to 10 million barrels of oil per day. Even at this higher rate, it would produce oil for about 400 years! There are of course related logistical issues such as the transportation, refining and distribution of the oil, building of more pipelines and refineries around the country. Their collective enemies are known as the NIMBY’s, a.k.a., the ‘Not In My Back Yard’ crowds and they are huge in numbers and therefore very powerful.
What will it take for America to do this?
But it will come to a head when the point is reached when we, as a country, are being blackmailed by the likes of Iran and Venezuela into oil prices of 100 to 300 dollars a barrel. While Venezuela can only threaten us by blocking their exports to America, Iran is geographically located to the north of a very narrow stretch of water at the south-east end of the Persian Gulf known as the Strait of Hormuz and they could, if not outright stop, at the least severely hamper the transportation of oil from the other oil producing countries in the Gulf. Shortages would ensue and definitely drive the price for oil sky high over night. With the current regime in Iran, we should not underestimate this danger.
Now, it will take time to reach a state of foreign oil independency from the situation as described above but then, why would we allow this kind of a situation even to develop if it does not exist already. Although we do not know by how much, we believe very strongly that, even a serious attempt of drilling for oil in the Rocky Mountains, would bring the price of oil down drastically and immediately on the world market. All these oil-exporting countries depend on the money it brings them and they have been reaping huge profits in recent times. They might find a severe reduction of oil prices as a huge incentive to discourage us from taking a serious attempt of becoming oil independent. The choice should be clear: Do we want to keep putting up with the current situation of oil import dependence and by the potential of blackmail from some of these countries for years to come or do we want to do something about it. In our opinion, it is time to put up or shut up. We advocate putting up and doing something about it. Our future should not depend on foreign tyrants and dictators when it comes to energy independence.
This article and others on Back to Common Sense are designed to provoke further thought and investigation. It is not the intent for the articles to be politically biased. Sources are referenced in each article to encourage readers to delve into the supporting material. We welcome all readers to participate with their point of view either in support or contrary with additional information sources.