When most of the progressive western nations thought that it was about time to start looking for an alternative, renewable sources of energy that are not only environment friendly, but one that would make them less dependent on the fossil fuel supply of unstable Middle East and an unreliable Russia, the resurgence of extracting gas and oil from shale is exciting the world and making the realization of it a game-changer in energy source.
We were thinking that the energy revolution will revolve around the technology of solar, wind, hydropower, biomass, geothermal and ocean energies, but we were all wrong.
In fact the idea never took off as fast and as much as the whole world wanted it implemented. The researchers were probably concern about the vagaries of the renewable energies listed below:
- solar — panels are expensive. Most Governments are not all willing to buy home generated electricity. Not all climates are suitable for solar panels.
- wind — turbines are expensive. Wind doesn’t blow all the time, so they have to be part of a larger plan.
- waves — different technologies are being tried around the world. Scientists are still waiting for the ultimate development.
- tides — barrages (dams) across river mouths are expensive to build and disrupt shipping. Smaller turbines are cheaper and easier to install.
- rivers — Dams are expensive to build and disrupt the environment. Smaller turbines are cheaper and easier to install.
- geothermal — Difficult to drill two or three kilometers down into the earth.
- biofuel — often uses crop land or crops (like corn) to produce biofuel so the price of cheap food goes up.
So, why not explore again what you have in abundance, develop and exploit it for your own good?
In fact that is exactly what the US government is doing and they have never been as bullish with their gas and oil production from the country’s shale deposit as they are now.
Shale is a fine-grained sedimentary rock that forms from the compaction of silt and clay-size mineral particles that we commonly call “mud”. Some shales have special properties that make them important resources. Black organic shales are the source rock for many of the world’s most important oil and natural gas deposits. These black shales obtain their black color from tiny particles of organic matter that were deposited with the mud from which the shale formed. As the mud was buried and warmed within the earth some of the organic material was transformed into oil and natural gas.
As sedimentary rock, oil shale is found all over the world, including China, Israel, and Russia. But, the US, however, has the most shale resources.
It is said that the US is already the world’s largest natural gas producer, and it is estimated that, by 2035, almost 90 per cent of Middle East oil and gas exports will go to Asia, with the U.S. importing virtually none.
It has also been predicted that the U.S. will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer in 2017.
Studies have shown that for the world as a whole, technically recoverable gas resources are now conservatively reckoned to amount to around 16,000 trillion cubic feet. In short, as a result of the shale revolution, the Earth can now provide us with about 250 years’ worth of gas supplies.
The fear of the so-called ‘peak oil’ theory, which suggests that within the foreseeable future the world will run out of fossil fuels — coal, oil and gas — has just been debunked by the shale revolution. The reason is that the solid bituminous materials called kerogen that is contained in the oil shale is like the traditional petroleum, where all of its components – coal, oil and gas – are also considered fossil fuels. Only, the extreme heat and pressure it was being subjected to eons of years ago were not as great.
The consequence of being able to extract gas not only from drilling vertical holes, but also from an innovative horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which is the application of water, chemicals and sand into the hole under enormous pressure until the rock cracks, allowing gas locked up in the shale to escape and flow upwards into the well, is already making an impact on the US economy and its geopolitical front.
Oil shale can be mined using one of two methods: underground mining using the room-and-pillar method or surface mining.
Shale oil is similar to petroleum, and can be refined into many different substances, including diesel fuel, gasoline, and liquid petroleum gas (LPG). Companies can also refine shale oil to produce other commercial products, such as ammonia and sulfur. The spent rock can be used in cement.
The economic and political repercussions of such discoveries cannot be understated. The cheap energy brought about by the shale gas revolution, for example, is already boosting the U.S. economy.
New jobs are now being created and manufacturing jobs that are being presently outsourced outside the US, like those in China, can now be repatriated back to the US as production cost are most likely to rise in China, as it is starting to go up now. This will put back the US in competitive footing viz-a-viz with China.
Above all, the world will no longer be held hostage by the biggest oil producers for whimsical and political reasons.