NC Media Watch

A quest for reason and accuracy in letters to the editor, guest editorials and other issues of interest to the citizens of Western Nevada County.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Peak Oil Update: In situ shale conversion

We have discussed shale oil production in the US in response to Peak Oil letters to the editor several times. Several people sent e-mails claiming the environmental damage was too high for shale oil. Shell oil has developed an on site extraction method, that does not require mining the shale. I found this article in the Rocky Mountain News several weeks ago, but lost the URL, so I do not have a link. [See link below]
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.

Please note, you don't have to go looking for oil fields when you're brewing your own. On one small test plot about 20 feet by 35 feet, on land Shell owns, they started heating the rock in early 2004. "Product" - about one-third natural gas, two-thirds light crude - began to appear in September 2004. They turned the heaters off about a month ago, after harvesting about 1,500 barrels of oil.

While we were trying to do the math, O'Connor told us the answers. Upwards of a million barrels an acre, a billion barrels a square mile. And the oil shale formation in the Green River Basin, most of which is in Colorado, covers more than a thousand square miles - the largest fossil fuel deposits in the world.
Wow! We have enough oil for 200-300 years of consumption. More than enough time to develop alternatives.

UPDATE: Here is the the missing link.

Click here for a private e-mail comment. For public comment select comments below.


Blogger Frederic Christie said...

Russ, even if you can prove that there is time to develop alternatives (and there may not be by your own critique of hybrids), that wouldn't undercut the logic of beginning now, especially given the other impacts of burning carbon (not just warming).

However, oil shale is hard to extract, as economic and ecological considerations may make it not especially worth it. . The US Office of Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves estimates a total of 1200 billion, nowhere near your count. Also quoting from this wiki: "All forms of oil shale exploitation are very inefficient as the energy demands of blasting, transporting, crushing, heating the material, and then adding hydrogen, together with the safe disposal of huge quantities of waste material, are large.

Current extraction methods produce four times as much greenhouse gas as does conventional oil production."

Bear in mind, Russ, that we're not stable on oil consumption at the moment, not by a long shot. Barring substantial changes, the Third World and China's growth will continue (especially China, with 8-10% GDP growth), meaning that every 23 years assuming 3% growth their consumption will double. World population is expected to level off anywhere from 8-12 billion. That means anywhere from 33% to 100% more than what we have now. Add in constant growth and, unless we stop the growth (which I agree with) or change to different energy, even a wholly new set of reserves will be consumed.

Peak oil isn't a myth coming from leftists, dude. It's a serious concern of the oil industry and good oil scientists are discussing it.

Mon Sep 12, 02:31:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Russ Steele said...


If you read the article you would not have put this bad info in your responce:
"All forms of oil shale exploitation are very inefficient as the energy demands of blasting, transporting, crushing, heating the material, and then adding hydrogen, together with the safe disposal of huge quantities of waste material, are large."

Using the Shell method, there is no mining, no blasting, no crushing, adding hydrogen, etc. Read the whole article and get the facts. This is new method!

The 200-300 year supply was down scaled from 500 year estimate by the Department of Energy, at the current global consumption rate. See the DOT web site.

Mon Sep 12, 07:32:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Frederic Christie said...

You seem to forget that you don't have a link for the article, so I can't read it. But I did find it independently, and the article later says, "Shell has been deliberately low-key about their R&D, wanting to avoid the hype, and the disappointment, that surrounded the last oil-shale boom. But O'Connor said the results have been sufficiently encouraging they are gradually getting more open. Starting next week, they will be holding public hearings in northwest Colorado." In other words: This is still tentative, it may not work as planned. You did a disservice to your readers by not Googling, as it took me 10 seconds to find it.

The fact is that this new technology doesn't change the peak oil situation: new sources will be more expensive and generate less total. has some good discussion, but none of the commentators thought that this would be an energy policy panacea, if the technology indeed can survive mass application.

Tue Sep 13, 12:40:00 AM PDT  

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