You know those things that newspapers do, with quotes from 50 or 100 years ago today? Last week the New York Times ran a bit from the 17 July 1913 International Herald Tribune about the geopolitics of petroleum:
Mr. Winston Churchill made an important statement in the House of Commons yesterday on the navy estimates with regard to the future supply of oil for the British navy. He showed how the use of oil as the motive power for warships is rapidly developing, and outlined the policy to be followed by the Admiralty in order to secure adequate oil stores at reasonable prices. One of the most striking points is that the Admiralty will seek to obtain the ownership, or, at any rate, the control of an oil supply at its source. In the British Islands alone, he said, according to the "Daily Express," twice as much oil as the navy used last year could be produced from shale and clay.
Churchill was not speaking of shale oil as we understand itwith slant drilling and hydrofracking and pipelinesbut rather of oil shale, a resource that is largely forgotten today. Oil shale is bitumen-soaked mudstone that has not matured into a petroleum source. It was dug up like coal and roasted to distill the liquid hydrocarbons. You can imagine how messy such an industry would be, but battleship fuel was a highly strategic resource. Soon after Churchill's remarks, the British Empire secured large supplies of conventional oil from the Middle East, with consequences that still resonate today. The US government still has an interest in oil shale, but it has been off the front burner, so to speak, for many years.