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EIA Downgrades Monterey Shale Estimate by 96%; Great News for Clean Energy

1 min. read

Bad news for fossil fuels; good news for clean energy.

In news that stunned most onlookers, the Energy Information Administration confirmed that it's cut its estimate of oil technically recoverable from California's Monterey Shale from 113 to 15 billion barrels of oil to 0.6 billion barrels - a downgrade of 96 percent.

Ninety six percent. Not a typo.

As any any California native and/or graduate of a high school geology class knows, California has messy geologic beds - folded, twisted, shaken, and stirred, unlike the neatly made geologic beds drawn with straight lines in textbooks. Geologists have long known that the Monterey Shale has 400 billion barrels of oil, but it was thought to be mostly unrecoverable. A 2011 estimate from the EIA pegged the amount of recoverable oil using today's technologies (fracking and acidizing) at 15.4 billion barrels, later downgraded to 13.7 billion barrels. But even that 13.7 billion barrels has turned out to be unrecoverable using fracking.

The hype is vanishing like the Sierra snowpack in a drought-stricken year. No 2.8 million jobs. No $24.6 billion in tax revenue. (Of course, as we've seen with Keystone XL, those jobs never were there in the first place.) No more Jerry Brown hyping the economic benefits of fracking.

So why is this great news for clean energy? Because, simply stated, it indicates serious limitations on the ability of expensive, dirty techniques like fracking to significantly increase recoverable oil and gas deposits at competitive prices. Combine that with the plummeting costs of solar and wind, and the combination could be simultaneously damaging to fossil fuels and highly beneficial, from a competitive perspective, for renewable energy. We'll see if the Monterey shale case is replicated elsewhere. But even if it isn't, the problems with fossil fuels are myriad and not going away, while the benefits of clean energy are also myriad and not going away either.