According to energy experts, the entire needs of the United States for transportation fuels can be supplied from Oil Shale; however, a massive investment in new technology will be required before much of it sees a "gas tank". This potentially optimistic message was given to 75 guests at a recent Northwest Colorado Energy Producers Association dinner. Tracy Boyd, a manager with Shell's Unconventional Resource Energy (SURE) division said that the world's largest countries, including India and China, will double their energy consumption by 2050, and as the supply of "easy oil" becomes depleted, the search for not-so-easy oil will become critical. It would seem then, that Shell are in accord that Peak Oil is an inevitability.
It is estimated that there are 800 million barrels of recoverable oil to be found in Northwest Colorado, eastern Utah and southwestern Wyoming, and Shell is working closely with the Bureau of Land Management to obtain the necessary permits for exploration since two thirds of these reserves are on federally owned land. The technology that is being tested by Shell is known as a "down-hole heater". The procedure is an "in-situ conversion process" (ICP) and it entails lowering electric heaters down a drill hole to raise the shale rock to a temperature of 650 - 700 degrees Celsius. The process takes three to four years, and releases a product that consists of one-third gas and two-thirds light oil, which is easily refined (by distillation) into transportation fuels such as diesel, jet fuel and gasoline.
There is a potential snag to doing this in-situ (rather than mining the rock and heating it "ex-situ"), and that is that groundwater might become contaminated as the whole operation is conducted on the mineral underground. However, a solution has been invented which involves constructing a "freeze-wall" of ice 15 feet thick around the ICP zone which should isolate the shale on the inside and protect the water on the outside. The groundwater is then to be pumped out from the ICP zone and stored, being reintroduced when the oil extraction is completed. I can foresee problems here?
Since the freezing process takes two years (and must be highly energy intensive) before the three to four year heating process is carried out, the whole procedure is a time consuming one; however, the richest zones of oil shale are thought to hold as much as 25 gallons of oil per tonne of rock. It is hoped that some of the oil and gas so recovered might be used to fuel the heaters (and coolers too?), to help meet the energy cost of extracting the oil, which it must be said are considerable. The oil is to be removed from the region by pipeline. Marianna Raftopoulos, former County Commissioner and a consultant for Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas, said that she is encouraged by the way the project is progressing slowly and in a more structured manner than previous oil shale projects. "I think it's an absolutely feasilble project," she commented. "We need to produce energy from the oil shale in the Rocky Mountain Region." To a British commentator, the name "Rocky Mountain" implies "pristine natural wilderness", and that doesn't square with the kind of gargantuan "oil landscape" that might be envisaged in this region!
In any event, Shell has applied for three, 160 acre oil shale leases from the BLM in Colorado, and Chevron is applying for leases there too.