“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

The Republican National Committee just launched an ad called, “Balance” claiming we have “a climate in crisis.” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) introduced the Climate Destruction Gas Price Reduction Act of 2008 late last month that would repeal the congressional moratorium on shale development. In a press release today titled, “A Balanced Approach to Reducing Gas Prices for Americans,” he claimed that, “Our western states are sitting on a sea of oil three times as large as the oil reserves in Saudi Arabia.”

Actually, the shale ain’t a sea of anything. It is a clay-like rock, organic marlstone, containing very little energy [PDF] — per pound, it has one-tenth the energy of crude oil, one-fourth that of recycled phone books, one-third that of Cap’n Crunch. Turning it into a usable liquid fuel would require a massive amounts of energy and probably release more carbon dioxide than even liquid coal.

The best analysis of the climate risks of unconventional oil, “Risks of the oil transition,” coauthored by the late Alex Farrell, has an outstanding figure that shows that from a climate perspective, shale is probably worse than liquid coal (which is pretty damn bad):


(X-axis is the range of potential resource in billions of barrels. Y-axis is grams of Carbon per MegaJoule of final fuel.)

Shell is currently exploring the possibility of converting shale to oil while it is in the ground, rather than mining out large volumes of energy-poor material. Converting shale to oil [PDF] in this manner requires as much as 1200 megawatts of generating capacity to produce 100,000 barrels per day. The total cost of the facility, including the generation plant, may be in the range of $7-10 billion. If that were fossil-based electricity, we would be generating millions of tons greenhouse gases every year just to create a fuel that itself would spew more greenhouse gases into the air when burned in a car. But then it would be equally nonsensical to use renewable energy to make shale, when we critically needed that zero-carbon power to displace coal electricity.

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

Which is to be master? That is the question. With so much energy disinformation rampant from the conservatives and the energy companies, how is the general public ever going to become informed on these issues?

This post was created for, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.