Our avid Estonian fans weigh in on oil shale development

We’re a hit in Estonia! Or at least The Colorado Independent is drawing hits from the Baltic nation bordering Russia after one of its leading daily newspapers linked to a report we did early this week on the environmental impacts of years of oil shale production there.

Our report was based on a study conducted by London’s Royal Society of Chemistry, which spelled out decades of problems with water and air quality in Estonia stemming from oil shale production– a cautionary tale as Colorado considers ramping up its own long-dormant oil shale production efforts.

A reader sent us the link to our story on the business news site that runs under the umbrella of one of Estonia’s largest news dailies, Postimees. In case you don’t read Estonian, the reader told us there was no real editorial accompanying our piece, just a link that has sparked reader comments.

The reader, an Estonian named Kaspar Kulli, pointed out that oil shale technology has changed a great deal in the years since it was last attempted commercially in Colorado in the 1980s. We did note that the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) report made the observation that things have improved in Estonia since the 1980s.

“There are different technologies to produce energy from oil shale and to deal with the leftovers like semi-coke [a troublesome waste byproduct, according to the RSC report],” wrote Kulli, who went on to explain his own interest in the industry.

“I’m in partnership with a couple of Estonian inventors who have patented technologies for a ‘combi-station’ that uses all kind of organic material, also oil shale, and can produce oil (that can be made into biodiesel), electricity and heat.

“It’s not as powerful as one coal-fired power plant, but using several ‘combi-stations’ side by side they can put out the necessary power. Compared to the conventional coal-fired power plants, the carbon footprint is very, very small. And it uses no water.”

Two of the biggest knocks on restarting full-scale, commercial oil shale production efforts in Colorado is that the process consumes far too much of the state’s most precious resource, water, and that it will require too much conventional electricity from carbon-belching coal-fire power plants.

The issue blew up last week when U.S. Rep. James Inhofe, R-Okla., criticized Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter on Capitol Hill for focusing on renewable energy when his state has so much untapped oil shale potential (the entire Green River Formation in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah is estimated to have more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia if oil shale can be economically and environmentally tapped).

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About the Author

David O. Williams

is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy, environmental and political issues for years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He's founder of Real Vail
and Real Aspen.

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