Victory: shale oil project collapses

Feature story - 21 July, 2004
In a world which holds more oil than we can safely burn, why would anyone try to squeeze more out of rocks? And in a world threatened by climate change, why would anyone make a bad fossil fuel even WORSE for the environment by using tremendous amounts of energy to crush the rock and heat it to 500 degrees Celsius, while rotating it in a giant kiln? Only a complete idiot -- or Queensland Energy Resources (QER) of Australia -- would try such a thing.

Activist holding banner pointing out climate change impact of shale oil project.

With the announcement today that QER was ending oil development of the Stuart Shale near Gladstone, the Australian government must now decide whether to give up entirely on the ill-fated project.

Greenpeace has been campaigning to stop the development of shale oil, the most greenhouse intensive of all fossil fuels, since 1998. We weren't alone. In a year 2000 editorial, New Scientist opined "We face a switch either to clean energy sources or to fuels even dirtier than today's, such as shale oil. It beggars belief that anyone would choose the latter."

The Stuart Shale oil project in Australia has been controversial since its inception over two decades ago. It has cost more than AU$ 360 million, including tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money. Even so, QER CEO Ross Dunning tried to make the best of the closure by declaring the project a success: "Over the past several years Stage 1 has produced over 1.5 million barrels of oil." Eureka! It's feasible to produce oil from rocks at great environmental expense and with devastating toxic side effects and not be able to make a profit even with huge government subsidies.

Shale oil should not be developed at any price. Oil from Stuart would have had four times the greenhouse emission impact of oil extracted from the ground.

In 2001, former partner Suncor pulled out of the Stuart project amid concerns about its commercial viability and environmental impacts.

Queensland Energy Resources, a company that grew out of that failure, said the project would wind down over the next few months, a major victory for the tens of thousands of people who took action with Greenpeace in opposing the Stuart Shale project, from our global cyberactivists to the local residents who opposed it.

So lets let this be a lesson to other governments which think they can develop oil at any cost, and to companies like Exxon which continue to fund phony science and political lobbyists to convince us that global warming is not a problem: we're not going to let you win.

Rather than propping up polluting industries such as shale oil, governments should help develop clean, renewable energy and fuels such as solar and wind power, and hydrogen fuel cells.

They should leave squeezing rocks to idiots.

Take action

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is at risk. In 2002 the reef experienced its worst case of coral bleaching, with over 60 percent being affected.

As the climate heats up so do the oceans, causing the organisms that give coral its colour and food to die.

The Australian government now faces a key decision on the reef's future - accepting or rejecting the second stage of the Stuart Shale Oil project near Gladstone.

The development of a shale oil industry would more than double Australia's greenhouse emissions - increasing climate change. This would be a disaster for the reef.

Tell the Queensland government to abandon shale oil development permanently.