‘Fracking’ success sparking talk of oil shale boom

by
January 13, 2013

Shale locations
An oil boom launched by “fracking” has led energy leaders to take a second look at harnessing the potential of oil shale, a fossil fuel that energy firms largely abandoned the hope of harnessing in the 1980s.

No commercially viable method of producing oil shale exists, but American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard turned heads earlier this month when he predicted a game-changing technological breakthrough could allow the use of oil shale.

Gerard’s remarks caught many by surprise as doubts abound on oil shale’s future.

“To date, what we’ve seen is 100 years of promises and taxpayer funds for projects that have all gone belly up,” said Ellynne Bannon, a spokeswoman with spending watchdog group Checks and Balances Project.

Environmentalists abhor the prospect of trying to harness oil shale, which would involve extracting oil that is contained in rocks. Extraction methods so far use a considerable amount of fossil fuels and water, which is scarce in the West.

Yet before fracking — which injects a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into tight rock formations to capture oil hidden under the rocks —many had thought accessing the oil and gas buried deep underground was too expensive.

Now — largely because of fracking — the U.S. is now projected to overtake Saudi Arabia to become the number one oil producer in the world by 2020.

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