At the Colorado School of Mines annual oil shale confab in mid-October, geologists and industry executives from around the world gathered to hear the latest updates on the state of development technologies. They cheered claims that “it’s different this time,” though they did not provide any basis for such claims. They stated that those who disagree with them are unscientific, calling us “creationists,” all the while ignoring statements by two leading companies that they’ve made little progress over the past year. Most notably, they conflated hype with progress, ignoring the messy fact that the history of oil shale follows a clear pattern of hype followed by bust.
I give the industry reps credit, though. The line between hype and reality, between myth and fact, is not easy to discern—and even I fell into their trap.
Take Enefit USA, a subsidiary of Eesti Energia, the Estonia national energy company. At the Mines conference, Enefit announced to great fanfare that in Estonia on that day they initiated production from their new oil shale fuels development facility. That was October 15th. I drank their Kool-Aid, accepting their pronouncements at face value.
Then earlier this week, a mere six weeks later, this item appeared in Bloomberg BusinessWeek:
“Eesti Energia AS, Estonia’s largest utility, will delay the start of the world’s biggest shale oil plant to next year due to technological problems, Chief Executive Officer Sandor Liive said. The Enefit280 plant in Auvere, north-eastern Estonia, is about six months behind the initial plan of starting in September….”
“Technological problems,” delayed their plant, not lack of investment, not changing government policy, or even the re-election of President Obama. Technology and the rock they hope to convert to fuel remains the problem.
Maybe this time is different, maybe industry will be able to crack the oil shale code and produce liquid fuel at a profit. Then, again, maybe not. Only time will tell. In the meantime, we creationists, those of us who refuse to buy their hype and drink their Kool-Aid (minus my one faux pas), will continue to question whether their statements are facts or just myths we are supposed to blindly accept.