Poop to Plastic to Profit

BUSINESS Would you drink from water bottles made from raw sewage? You may soon have the opportunity, thanks to the rise of bioplastics. (BBC) Use our resources to better understand the perils of (traditional) plastics. Watch this video explaining how a California company is turning biological waste into biodegradable plastic. Discussion Ideas Both the BBC and Micromidas (above) videos use the term “sludge” for the … Continue reading Poop to Plastic to Profit

Ecuador OKs Oil Drilling in the Amazon

ENVIRONMENT Ecuador OKs Oil Drilling in the Amazon “The world has failed us,” says Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa. In 2007, Correa and the United Nations Development Program proposed a plan that would prevent oil drilling in Yasuni National Park. Yasuni is part of the vast rain forest ecosystem of the Amazon basin—the so-called “lungs of the world.” Correa’s plan was to attract donations of at … Continue reading Ecuador OKs Oil Drilling in the Amazon

Shale Bait

Shale is having a rock star moment.

NGS Picture ID:1023523
Oil shale is a fossil fuel, like coal, petroleum, and natural gas.
Photograph by Emory Kristof

Coal is still the real rock star of the sedimentary set, with both Google search results (164 million to a little over 20 million) and New York Times mentions (5,460 to 1,220) dwarfing those of shale over the past year.

Oh, and coal is still the most popular source of energy for electricity in the world.  Ho hum.

But the fossil fuels trapped in shale rock formations have captured  imaginations and economies from New England to the Old West: the Marcellus shale, the Bakken shale, the Barnett shale. Shale is often mentioned with its sister fuel, natural gas. It’s also associated with hydraulic fracturing, an old drilling practice with a new, sci-fi sounding name: fracking. (Why so controversial? You could do worse than watch this video.)

So, we’re hearing a lot about oil shale, shale oil, and oil-bearing shales. Get your shale together and know the difference.

Oil shale is a rock that can be burned for heating or fuel. It’s a lot like coal, but a lot more expensive to drill and process. Although the U.S. has the largest oil shale deposits in the world, we currently don’t extract this fossil fuel at all.

I take that back! We do extract one thing from our shale deposits: Truly awesome fossils.

Fishy, fishy, in a rock. You're in shale and not in chalk. Photo by James L. Amos
Fishy, fishy, in a rock. You’re in shale and not in chalk.
Photo by James L. Amos

The oil extracted and processed from oil shale is imaginatively called shale oil. Just for shales and giggles, it can also be called oil-shale oil. Although the U.S. doesn’t use shale oil, other countries (like China, Brazil, and Estonia) rely on it for energy.

Continue reading “Shale Bait”