The Carmel Fire Station, constructed from Monterey Formation shale, better known as “Carmel Stone,” on the Monterey Peninsula.
It has been optimistically estimated that the Monterey formation, which underlies a good deal of the California coast and San Joaquin Valley, contains better than 15 billion barrels of “technically recoverable” oil. Since this is “tight oil,” firmly trapped within the rock, the only hope of actually recovering it is through fracking with powerful acids and a witch’s brew of other unsavory chemicals.
Given that the planet’s known oil reserves already contain far more oil than can be burned without apocalyptic climate consequences, it might be reasonably asked why anyone would pump toxic chemicals into the ground beneath some of the world’s most productive farmland to make additional oil recoverable. The answer, of course, is that there’s money to be made.
Both as individuals and as nations, human beings have an amazing ability to rationalize pretty much anything that makes them a buck, while ignoring or outright denying even the most obvious negative consequences. Hence Canada’s retreat from its international carbon reduction commitments as soon as it saw a chance to cash in on its tar sands, and Governor Brown abandoning his efforts to make California a leader in addressing climate change by embracing fracking as soon as a couple of reports were published suggesting it could stimulate a Monterey Shale oil boom capable of raising California tax revenues by as much as $24.6 billion per year.
But not all news is bad. A report released this week by the Post Carbon Institute and Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy, offers hope that the Monterey Shale excitement is more hype than substance, which in turn, offers hope that a sane energy policy might yet be possible in California.
The report is worth reading to get a sense of just how flimsy a promise of riches can lead a supposedly sophisticated civilization down the road to ruin.