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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Shell Oil Shale Oil

According to an article by Linda Seebach of Rocky Mountain News, researchers at Shell Oil "have been spending their own money trying to figure out how to get usable energy out of oil shale." And they think they've got it:
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):

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, 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.

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.

Go Shell!!!

4 comments:

johnt said...

There's hope in the technology suggested, but what about the snakes and spiders,the birds and bees,the natural beauty that is part of our heritage,unlike the Constitution which you can't pin down from day to day. No, I'd rather pay top dollar for fuel and go broke doing it than disturb the centipedes and despoil Earth Mother Gaia or whatever the hell her name is.

Bret said...

Okay, johnt, your comment gave me a good chuckle.

Joe said...

I'm not sure how I missed this article, but it's great news. I blogged awhile back about how investors have lost their shirts on oil shale before--but the time may have come for the economics to finally work. Thanks for posting this!

Bret said...

Joe, and if the economics still don't work after this technology advance, then maybe after the next one, or the one after...