Shell's method, which it calls "in situ conversion," is simplicity itself in concept but exquisitely ingenious in execution. Terry O'Connor, a vice president for external and regulatory affairs at Shell Exploration and Production, explained how it's done (and they have done it, in several test projects):If this process actually works, it allows profitable access to a trillion barrels of oil in Colorado's Green River Basin. Most analysts believe that the price of oil will remain above $30 per barrel forever. Even if they're wrong (and I suspect they might be), these shale oil wells are relatively small and not particularly capital intensive so Shell can turn them off until they're profitable again without incurring much of a loss.
Drill shafts into the oil-bearing rock. Drop heaters down the shaft. Cook the rock until the hydrocarbons boil off, the lightest and most desirable first. Collect them. [...]
They don't need subsidies; the process should be commercially feasible with world oil prices at $30 a barrel. The energy balance is favorable; under a conservative life-cycle analysis, it should yield 3.5 units of energy for every 1 unit used in production. The process recovers about 10 times as much oil as mining the rock and crushing and cooking it at the surface, and it's a more desirable grade. Reclamation is easier because the only thing that comes to the surface is the oil you want.
If this process actually works, the United States' oil production peak might not have already passed. We may see decades of plentiful oil and stable oil prices with greatly reduced dependence on foreign producers.