There are people who believe that green energy sources, such as solar and wind, will someday eliminate the need for gasoline and diesel fuels and that, as a result, the production of oil will no longer be necessary. These people may not realize that oil is the raw material for many other products that we use every day.

Photo: Utah oil shale deposit
Resulting oil and water from typical Green River formation shale.  This was extracted from a single 100 gram sample of shale similar in size to the banded sample in the foreground.

But they can all be refined into an array of products, the portions of each will vary with the chemical nature of the crude. Nevertheless, a barrel (42 gallons) of crude oil on average can be refined to yield about 46% gasoline, 26% diesel and heating oil, 9% jet fuel, 4% asphalt and lubricants. A portion of the remaining 15% of the refined products and natural gas are known as petrochemical feedstocks, which go into the manufacture of thousands of products, such as plastics, nylon, synthetic rubber, medicines, makeup, pesticides, fertilizer and numerous household and industrial items that we use every day. Without the oil byproducts we wouldn’t have computers, cell phones, much of our clothing, automobile components, and the list goes on and on.

When oil shale is processed it yields a heavy oil (shale oil) that can be refined into a similar group of products as those described above. However, because of the chemical nature of shale oil, the refinery yields a greater amount of diesel and jet fuels and a lesser amount of gasoline. This can be greatly beneficial. Also shale oil petrochemicals can be used to produce a very large, but slightly different, group of useful products for households, industry and agricultural, all critical to our well-being.

Despite the growing use of alternative energy, such as solar and wind, petroleum-derived products, including transportation fuels, will remain a crucial element in our daily lives. Shale oil can provide the raw materials from which these important products are derived. The lifestyles we are accustomed to are totally dependent on metals, minerals, and petroleum-derived products. Wise use of our natural resources is crucial to sustaining our economy, defending our nation, and meeting the needs of our citizens.