Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

Water & Oil Shale; November Auto Sales

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A couple of catch-up items that I wanted to mention.  First, Colorado Independent writer David Williams wrote a piece on water and oil shale last week.  Citing a Bureau of Land Management report written for Bush:

The report, prepared for key government and private water stakeholders in the area, says that northwest Colorado rivers can supply enough water to meet the growing demands of the natural gas, coal and uranium industries, but unproven oil shale production technology would “require tremendous amounts of water” that might not be available.

Proponents of oil-shale usually cite a huge number of technically recoverable oil – on the order of 4-5 times the amount of proven oil reserves in Saudi Arabia.  Few people mention that this compares apples and oranges.  Technically recoverable oil is not a proven reserve.  Technically recoverable oil is not economically recoverable oil.  Add to those facts that getting oil out of shale deposits requires external power (coal or natural gas) and multiple barrels of water for each barrel of oil that is eventually drilled.  Think about that for a moment – if solar cells required a constant supply of energy from natural gas to run or if wind farms required a constant supply of energy from burning coal, do you think anyone would seriously propose them as the next best thing?  Of course not – it wouldn’t make any sense.

The convergence of water, fossil fuels and climate change has received scant attention.  In northwestern Colorado, climate change is expected to make an already arid landscape even drier – a less consistent supply of water has been predicted for the region by a growing list of climate models.  Burning fossil fuels (i.e. natural gas and coal) emits carbon into the atmosphere where it is transformed to carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide is an effective greenhouse gas, driving the climate system to a warmer world that will see longer and more severe droughts in places like Colorado.  Viewed this way, it makes absolutely no sense to burn coal or natural gas and use billions of gallons of water to extract oil from shale in order to burn it in a region that is growing increasingly prone to long, severe droughts.


November auto sales hit a 26-year low.  The industry is in huge trouble globally as the world’s economies fall into recession.  People can’t buy houses or cars due to the confluence of the tight credit markets, foreclosures and job losses.  The auto industry won’t recover for years, regardless of how much money Congress throws at it.  I don’t think they’ll survive even with the loans currently being discussed.  I therefore don’t see the point in loaning them the money.  The taxpayers are likely to never see that money repaid to them.


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