Boom coming, eventually

Former Meeker attorney and geologist Frank Cooley, accompanied by his daughter, attempted the “impossible” Tuesday night: compressing 63 years of knowledge and experience about oil shale into a 25-minute presentation before Meeker’s board of trustees (left to right) Rodney Gerloff, John Strate and Mayor Mandi Etheridge. (Not pictured: Dan Conrado, Katelin Cook and Andy Thomson.)
Former Meeker attorney and geologist Frank Cooley, accompanied by his daughter, attempted the “impossible” Tuesday night: compressing 63 years of knowledge and experience about oil shale into a 25-minute presentation before Meeker’s board of trustees (left to right) Rodney Gerloff, John Strate and Mayor Mandi Etheridge. (Not pictured: Dan Conrado, Katelin Cook and Andy Thomson.)

MEEKER I “I’ve believed we were going to see the (oil shale) boom next Wednesday for the past 55 years.” After more than a half century, Frank Cooley is just as certain the boom is coming as ever. What makes the difference between Cooley’s belief in the boom and the doubts of others? Cooley’s expectation is backed by 63 years of experience, information and knowledge. While Cooley might be best known in Meeker as an attorney, he’s also a geologist. Cooley, 88, has 63 years of experience with oil shale, beginning as a geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey Fuels Section.Although Cooley has shared his knowledge and experience with oil shale repeatedly over the years, to community groups and politicians and anyone else willing to listen, he’s “spring-loaded” with information regarding a recent survey of the Green River Formation in Rio Blanco County.“The major part of the world’s oil shale is in Rio Blanco County,” Cooley said.According to the survey, the Piceance Basin in Rio Blanco County is a virtual treasure chest of “black gold.” The basin’s name, pronounced PEE-ANTS or PEE-AWNTS, probably originated from the Ute word for “tall grass.”“There’s more oil in that formation than in Saudi Arabia or the Persian Gulf – 1.5 trillion barrels of oil in the Piceance Basin,” Cooley shared.“That, to me, is the exciting thing and the reason why I have and do believe this will be the source of transportation fuel for the United States for the next several hundred years.”The oil is trapped in layers of shale rock formed during the Eocene period. Based on the geological record, the entire Piceance Basin was underwater during that time. Uinta Lake was a freshwater lake that was “lousy with two things: algae and bacteria,” Cooley explained. “It probably smelled terrible.”Geologists have determined that Uinta Lake, like some other freshwater lakes, “flipped over” every winter in a process called eutrophication, resulting in successive layers of rich organic material laid at the bottom of the lake. That material, solidified over time, created some of the richest deposits of oil shale in the world.Along with oil shale, the Piceance Basin is also “terribly important” as a source of nahcolite (baking soda), natural gas, aluminum and some pockets of oil trapped in the coal seams. The presence of oil-bearing shale in the region is not a new discovery. Piceance Basin’s shale deposits were referenced back in the early 1900’s. Local legends attribute the discovery of the region’s shale to an unfortunate settler near Parachute who built his chimney, unknowingly, from shale rock. Heated to the right temperature, oil shale is flammable. His chimney caught fire and burned his house down. Constrained by the time limits of the meeting, Mayor Mandi Etheridge asked Cooley, “How do you manage a community when you never know when the boom will come?”“I think the town should do all it can to become informed and to participate fully and communicate with the county and the county commissioners, so that one group is not going one way and the other going the other way.”Trustee Andy Thomson asked the question that has been a stumbling block to oil shale production for decades: “What will it take to make oil shale production economically feasible?”According to Cooley, who has studied oil production in China, Russia, Ukraine and the Persian Gulf over the past 30 years, “The crunch will come.”Is the “boom” coming? Probably. When it will come is anyone’s guess   but taking into account Frank Cooley’s 60-plus years of wisdom on the subject, it would be smart to be prepared.“I believe some of you here will live to see Meeker’s population grow to 100,000,” Cooley said.

 

1 Comment

  1. Having done one master’s degree researching the effects of the left over retort water from oil shale processing, I agree with Mr. Cooley that oil shale is a rich resource with the potential to provide much product IF and this is a big IF an efficient, effective process is ever developed. At this time there isn’t such a method that makes oil shale extraction economical.
    Believing though in the power of research hopefully that day will come but until then . . .conservation is a good way to decrease our use of the other fossil fuels. Conservation does not have to be a “bad” word either; using less cost less! I just hope that out of the present day concerns people will work on the research and development of a variety of energy and building resources that are sustainable as well as economical and profitable, maintaining the quality of our air, water and life.

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