Michele Bachmann isn't crazy — she's just horribly misinformed. At least in this particular instance: When Bachmann promised that if she became president, gas would be under $2 a gallon, her statement was entirely consistent with the voodoo alternate energy universe she and countless right-wing conspiracy theorists happen to inhabit.
The only reason I even know this is that I've occasionally had run-ins with this alternate plane of reality, in which otherwise rational people truly, fervently believe that America has enough oil within its borders to last the country for centuries, but a liberal cabal led by the EPA is simply holding back its development.
The stuff they're obsessed with is called oil shale. It actually exists, and they're right: there is a lot of it in the ground. There is more oil shale on earth than conventional oil — 3 trillion barrels versus 1.3 trillion or so barrels of the kind we're used to. And the U.S. has more of it than anyone.
The thing is, oil shale is like nuclear fusion — exploiting it profitably has been just over the horizon for basically forever. Existing reserves of the stuff are basically totally undeveloped, although that's starting to change. Digging it up and turning it into usable oil makes Canada's tar sands operation look easy.
In part that's because oil shale isn't actually oil; it's kerogen, a precursor to oil, and turning it into oil requires insane amounts of energy. One project by Shell proposed sticking heating elements into the ground and warming it to 700 degrees F for 4 years before it would be in a usable state.
Every time oil gets expensive, interest in oil shale heats up, and bloggers start trumpeting it as the solution to all our energy woes. And every time, it isn’t.
Bachmann's well-documented obsession with oil shale doesn't change the fact that no remotely realistic pace of development of this resource could ever bring U.S. gas prices below $2 a gallon. Right now the energy necessary to make oil shale usable actually outweighs the energy you get from it once you’re done.
Not to mention the fact that even if we could exploit our domestic resources, the world market is so gigantic that most of the extra supply would instantly be soaked up by anyone but the American consumer.
h/t Chris Nelder for sharing his expertise on oil shale
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