dailyreckoning.com.au / By Dan Denning / January 25th, 2013
You won’t think much of Rio Blanco County if you ever drive through it. In fact, unless you take a right turn off Interstate-70 West at Rifle, head north on Railroad Avenue and then west on Government road to Colorado state highway number thirteen, odds are you’ll never even step foot in Rio Blanco County.
But even if you keep heading west toward Grand Junction, through the town of Parachute and the shuttered oil shale refineries from the 1970s, you’ll see the Book Cliffs geologic formation on your right. For miles and miles. It’s a bleak landscape. Almost lunar. At first glance, it’s the kind of land you’d never want to explore, much less settle down in.
Oil Shale Reserves : America’s Strategic Future
In the small world of geologists, though, the region is well-known. In fact, you might even say it’s the single most important patch of undeveloped, unloved, and desolate looking land in America. But you’d never guess this particular corner of the Great American Desert may play an integral role in America’s strategic future just by looking at it. You’d never guess that the whole stretch of brown, red, and orange land contains enough recoverable oil and gas to make you forget about the Middle East for the rest of time.
There are places in Rio Blanco County like Stinking Water Creek, named after the smelly mix of oil and water the first white settlers found there, that tell you oil’s always been around the Rocky Mountains. It’s justot always been easy to find. It’s one thing to find oil that bubbles out of the ground in liquid form. It’s quite another to drill a thousand feet down, and encounter oil locked up tight inside a greasy rock.
The first seeping pools of oil were discovered in Western Colorado as far back as 1876, the year the state entered the Union. But exploration didn’t get serious until drillers settled in the town of Rangely in Rio Blanco County.
By 1903, thirteen different drillers had come and gone in Rangely. According to the local museum, the only six wells that actually struck oil were producing just two to ten barrels of oil a day. Hardly a Spindeltop, the gusher that launched the Texas oil-boom on January 10th, 1901, and immediately began producing 100,000 barrels per day.
The energy reserves of the Piceance Basin, upon which Rio Blanco County sits, contain massive petroleum reserves of a very unusual nature: Oil shale.