Possible new technology to extract oil shale – Peak Oil #50

In a decade or so, will we get to see thousands of these above the Green River Formation? Photo of Bakken pump jack by James Ulvog.
In a decade or so, will we get to see thousands of these above the Green River Formation? Photo of Bakken pump jack by James Ulvog.

Here’s another brain stretcher for you in the realm of the open frontier in energy – how about using microwave to tease oil shale out of the ground?

11/4 – Oxy – Move Over Fracking, There’s a New Technology in Town – First, keep in mind that oil shale is not the same as shale oil. I have to wrap my brain around that every time the topic of oil shale comes up.

Shale oil is crude oil that is trapped in rocks. Fracking is the way to get shale oil out of the ground.

Oil shale is sort-of-like crude oil stuff (actually kerogen, but that label doesn’t register for me) that has to be heated, or cooked, out of the rock. Usually done by strip mining then cooking the stuff. Other option is steam injection to liquefy the oil shale which then can be pulled out of the well. Fracking won’t do the trick.

Try this on for size: Using microwaves comparable to the power of 500 household machines to heat the rock turning the oil shale liquid. The water, which is mixed in with the kerogen will be converted to steam, which in turn will help pull the liquefied oil to the wellbore.

So where could this be used?

How about the Green River Formation in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming? There is an estimated 4 trillion barrels of oil shale there. Yeah, trillion, as in a thousand billion.

Contrast that to the astounding find a few weeks ago in the Wolfcamp formation, which I discussed earlier: Another 20 billion barrels of oil. What Peak Oil?

If it was possible to extract that oil shale in the Green River Formation, it would be equal to 200 Wolfcamps. That would be enough to provide all the oil we need in the US for 165 years, according to the article.

I can’t get my brain around that – imagine the jobs needed to drill five or ten thousand wells a year. Imagine the amount of oil the US could produce and sell worldwide.

Company has a demonstration well in process that they hope to have in production by the end of 2017.

The technology is in development. Sources cited in the article say that it may be another decade or 15 years before the technology is ready to be used in the field.

I’ll place my bet on human ingenuity and predict it won’t take that long.

Pumping costs

Article brings up interesting data point on what it costs to get oil out of the ground after the well is finished. This is called pumping costs.

The company developing the technology estimates their pumping costs will be about $9 a barrel.

This is in contrast to conventional wells of about $7 a barrel.

Will it work?

Maybe this won’t go anywhere. Maybe the technology won’t be deployable. Maybe something else will stop it.

But what if it works? Seems silly but that is what directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing looked like before it worked.

Oh, with the potential of pulling out a few billion barrels of oil that are untouchable today, I need to ask, what Peak Oil?

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