From whale oil to shale oil to microwaved oil shale. A Limerick.

Once Whale oil was packed in Nantucket.

Now Shale oil is fracked, you can suck it.

Let the Oil Shale be zapped;

it’s too rich to be capped.

It’s clean: EPA, you can chuck it!

Oil shale as fuel  has been used since prehistoric times. It can be made to burn without processing, albeit with a lot of smoke, kind of like burning tires. The first patent for extracting oil from oil shale was British Crown Patent 330 granted in 1694, so the process is hardly new.  But coal turned out to be much cleaner and with a lot more heat energy per ton of ore, so for a long time coal was king. Then from about 1820 to 1900 whale oil was the in thing, used for lamps and making of margarine. After the discovery of crude oil 1859 in Oil City, Pennsylvania the age of petroleum took off in earnest.

Since then we have had about a 30 year supply of proven oil reserves, and we still have about a 30 year supply of proven reserves.


This is about to change. Oil shale has always been there, abundant but unrecoverable unless mined at considerable expense and environmental destruction. I remember oil shale mining in my childhood’s Sweden. Travelling even within ten miles from Kvarntorp the stench of hydrogen sulphides were horrendous, the trees died, but it was WWII and it was the only source of oil to be had. What remains today is an immense ash heap, still smoking after 60 years.

The change is coming in form of leaving the shale in the ground and heating it using microwaves. The process is not new, but recent advances in microwave technology makes it commercially viable. Fracking to release shale oil is already commercially profitable, but it uses immense amounts of water, so it is not practical in the arid West. Microwaving oil uses no water, only a lot of energy as part of the extraction process. It is profitable at oil prices above $50 per barrel. So now we have a 150 year supply of proven reserves.


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Engineer, graduated from Chalmers Technical University a long time ago with a degree in Technical Physics. Career in Aerospace, Analytical Chemistry, and chip manufacturing. Presently adjunct faculty at PSU, teaching one course in Computer Engineering, the Capstone Course.

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