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Shale Oil Works in Estonia...Yes, Estonia

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

In the midst of the debt ceiling debacle (I refuse to call it a debate at this point) Senator Marco Rubio declared “ We don’t need new taxes, we need new taxpayers, people who are gainfully employed, making money, paying into the tax system.”

I majored in religion in college, not finance or economics so I am reasonably proud of myself when I can make the quantum leap that more taxpayers requires the creation of more jobs, and also requires lower prices for goods and services. 

To steal a now hackneyed phrase “There’s an app for that.” Coincidentally it is right down the road from me. I mean literally right down the road. Its called shale oil and my county happens to be in possession of quite a bit of it.

When the discussion of energy options turns to shale oil, the Environmental Left predictably goes to “It uses too much precious water! It’s unproven technology!” And they invariably base that assumption on conclusions drawn by the Rand Corporation. In the 1980’s.  And in the 1980’s, the conclusions drawn by the Rand Corporation regarding shale oil were fairly solid.

However (and I do feel somewhat embarrassed in having to point this out) this is not the 1980’s, it is the 21st Century. And one does the community at large a disservice by using the Ghosts of Data Past to justify shoddy policy.

If we accept that data from the 1980’s is automatically relevant to 2011, then it stands to reason that using data from the 1860’s; I and 10,000 of my closest friends should storm Atlanta to ensure that the Union remains intact and slavery is abolished.

My point is that what has been commonly accepted as gospel in the past can become useless in the present. Such is the case with shale oil.

Don’t get me wrong, I respect the folks at Rand. They are on top of their game and in the 1980’s their assessment of oil shale was spot on.

However, like the political landscape of America and like the practice of bloodletting, society has progressed since those concepts were a part of contemporary thought. And we know a bit more about oil shale than we did when I graduated high school. (That would be 1985 for those of your keeping score.)

For advancements in oil shale, we need look no further than the country of Estonia. And yes, I said Estonia.

You see as it turns out, Estonia happens to be in possession of oil shale. And while we have whittled away our time doing the environmental hokey pokey, dithering about where when how and why to develop resources all the while quaking in our boots over the fear that we would invoke the wrath of the  Environmental Left, the country of Estonia got down to the business of making oil shale work.

A company in Estonia is mining a 9 foot high seam of oil shale.  From that seam the company has created a plant that is producing something on the order 25 thousand barrels of oil per day. And while environmentalists would tell you that it uses up that most precious of resources: water, water is not used at all in the extraction process. In fact the drier the shale the better. So much for the myth of water going down the proverbial dry hole. Additionally, the Estonian plant meets the exacting air quality requirements of the European Union, which is no small feat in this day and age.

But is it useable? Well, unless the laws of physics in Estonia vary wildly from those in the United States, the Magic Eight Ball seems to say YES.  The country of Estonia has a total of eight power plants running off of oil shale. Six of those are in operation and two are in the process of being refurbished.  Construction is underway on a new power plant that will generate  600 megawatts of electricity when it goes online.

Impressive numbers? Yes. But a drop in the bucket when you consider that the seam of oil shale in my part of the world is not nine feet high but 70 feet. Consider the possibilities.

But the land! The irreparable harm that will be done to the land! What about such endangered plant species as the Graham’s Penstemon? Never heard of the Graham’s Penstemon? I’m not surprised. You won’t unless the news of the latest environmentalist lawsuit against the Federal government reaches your ears. In this particular case, if oil shale development is allowed to proceed in my part of the world, it will put at risk the Graham’s Penstemon. A flower you have never heard of and whose absence will likely not impact your life one wit.

Except for the fact that when an experimental oil shale retort was put up amongst the Penstemon, far from being extinguished, it bloomed with a vengeance! A fact conveniently omitted in the lawsuit. It would  appear the presence of an oil shale retort in fact urged the flower on to greater things.

But what about the ugly scars in the land that will never heal? Well, the company in question makes a point of reclaiming the areas in which it has mined. It fills in the holes it has left in the ground with the spent shale and plants grass and trees in the places in which it has worked. In point of fact the company has even gone so far as to create a ski slope out of the spent shale. A rare treat in a country as flat as Estonia. One would think that as enamored as the Left is of skiing this would be seen as nothing but a boon to the slope deprived people of  Estonia.

But of course there are the awful carbon emissions. After all, they create a horrible barrier in the sky, which prevents the escape of greenhouse gasses causing the earth to warm.

Until two weeks ago, at which time we were presented with evidence showing that evil industry was preventing the earth from heating: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/04/us-climate-sulphur-idUSTRE7634IQ20110704

Amazing thing this climate change, it cools as it heats! No doubt Vince the Sham Wow guy will be hawking it on late night TV soon. Whatever happened to him anyway? Last I heard he had been beaten up by a hooker. (Insert “slap-chop” joke here)

But seriously, folks…

Despite what the environmentalists will tell you, oil shale works. And it works well. And the proof lies in Estonia, of all places. Oil shale means job and it means you can pay less at the pump.

The key to a bright future lays at my feet .Literally at my feet. It is up to you to go and claim it for your own.

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