A rocky substance called oil shale is abundant in western North America. Experts say they can extract usable oil from this shale, but geologist Craig Cooper speaks of trade-offs in the extraction process.
Craig Cooper: It’d take a lot of water – about 5% percent of the total water in the upper Colorado basin – to replace just 10% of our total oil imports with oil harvested from these oil shales using old technologies.
Cooper works for Idaho National Labs, which conducts energy research. He worries about the water needed by wildlife and humans in the Colorado basin.
Craig Cooper: There’s a large question as to whether or not in this basin there’s enough water to meet existing claims, much less new claims that may come on line from oil shale.
Cooper spoke of making the oil extraction process less water-intensive by using recycled water.
Craig Cooper: In the west, we have a lot of natural gas wells that produce waste water that has to be treated and disposed of. Why not use this unconventional water for the unconventional oil in oil shale?
Scientists hope to change existing water laws that make it difficult to use this recycled water.
Join EarthSky in celebrating The International Year of Planet Earth. Thanks to the National Science Foundation and US Geological Survey.
>Our thanks to Craig Cooper.
Craig Cooper is a scientist at Idaho National Laboratory. He has over 10 years experience investigating how energy systems impact environmental processes and says his work focuses on how to improve human stewardship of energy and environmental systems.