Bean: Oil shale a bad option for Utah

By By Alex Bean and By By: Alex Bean

By Alex Bean

With crude oil prices rising rapidly across the globe, there is pressure to find alternative sources of energy.

One source of great interest is oil shale. The World Energy Council conservatively estimates the world’s oil shale reserves at 2.8 trillion barrels of oil, 1.5 trillion barrels in the Western United States alone. However, this incredible amount of oil remains relatively untouched.

The technology to extract oil from the deposits exists and has for years. Despite the great potential for oil production, it would be a mistake to pursue development here in Utah. Along with the oil comes a large amount of waste.

In 2007, the United States Bureau of Land Management reported that certain extraction techniques produce two to 10 barrels of toxic wastewater per barrel of oil produced. This wastewater isn’t easily disposed of because it contains tar and other toxic materials.

“Mining, processing and waste disposal require land to be withdrawn from traditional uses such as agriculture, residential areas or recreation,” according to a study the European Academies Science Advisory Council conducted.

The EASAC also found that in some cases, mining oil shale requires the lowering of groundwater to keep the mine dry. If the levels drop below normal groundwater levels, it could pose a problem to arable lands.

The western United States, Utah especially, is already suffering through drought, and the opening of shale mining operations could have a negative impact on the land. Protecting the land is important.

“Wilderness areas are where we came from,” U biology professor Fred Montague said. “We need these ecological resources.”

Although there is a remarkable potential for oil shale development in the United States, there is still a finite amount of it. The 1.5 trillion barrels of oil in the Green River region could certainly support America, the world even, for years to come. However, this oil will eventually run out, and shrugging off the problem for generations to come isn’t a solution. Rather, the United States should focus its attention on developing renewable energy sources.

By working to develop more efficient power sources, Utah can avoid spoiling its environment, and the United States can permanently escape from its dependence on foreign oil.

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