F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote a story about a family that discovered a diamond as big as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel sitting beneath a mountain in a remote corner of Montana.
The big rock presented a great dilemma. Selling off tiny pieces could yield a massive fortune. But if the world uncovered its existence, diamond prices would plummet.
To maintain their secret -- and an artificial scarcity in diamonds -- the family became tyrants, imposing absolute control over five square miles of Montana. Involuntary servitude, extrajudicial incarceration and old-fashioned homicide were just some of the tools they used the keep their jewel -- and all knowledge of it -- within the family.
I was reminded of Fitzgerald's story recently when I read the written testimony that the Government Accountability Office presented to an obscure congressional panel called the Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.
The testimony was a real page-turner, enticingly titled, "Unconventional Oil and Gas Production: Opportunities and Challenges in Shale Oil Development."
Like many Americans, I had heard something about shale oil in the Rocky Mountains. But it was not a topic I had even thought of looking into until I noticed the gas stations between my home and office were selling unleaded for about $4 per gallon.
The GAO testimony discussed the Green River Formation -- a geological feature where Colorado, Utah and Wyoming come together.
The U.S. Geological Survey, the testimony said, "estimates that the Green River Formation contains about 3 trillion barrels of oil, and about half of this may be recoverable, depending on available technology and economic conditions.
"The Rand Corp., a nonprofit research organization, estimates that 30 to 60 percent of the oil shale in the Green River Formation can be recovered," said GAO.
"At the midpoint of this estimate, almost half of the 3 trillion barrels of oil would be recoverable," said GAO. "This is an amount about equal to the entire world's proven oil reserves."
Wait! What? Say that again! "About equal to the entire world's proven oil reserves!"
Since the GAO testimony cited the Rand Corp., I poked around to see what Rand had said about the Green River Formation.
On June 3, 2011, Rand's James T. Bartis appeared in the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power.