Map of oil shale and tar sands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — via the BLM
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
It could require less than half a barrel of water to buoy up a barrel of oil from the high desert of the west, Shell Oil Co. said. One barrel of oil could be produced from oil shale for as little as a third of a barrel of water, Tom Fowler, commercial lead for the Shell project, said at the 33rd Oil Shale symposium at Colorado School of Mines.
Water use has long been a point of contention in the running battle over the development of oil shale.
Shell’s announcement comes on the heels of its decision to shift assets away from oil shale in northwest Colorado to other assets, among them a $12.5 billion shale-to-gas plant in Louisiana.
“We were laser-focused on water,” and the techniques refined in Colorado “translate very well to other places, I’m specifically thinking of Jordan, where they also are very concerned about their water, Fowler said.
Shell’s new estimates are based on a project producing 50,000 barrels of oil per day.
One major factor in Shell’s reduction in anticipated water use was to switch from water cooling to air cooling, especially in the power-generation part of the process. Power is needed to heat the rock to about 700 degrees Fahrenheit to free kerogen from the rock. Vaporized kerogen condenses into crude oil that can be recovered.
Shell also reduced its estimates of water use by targeting the deepest, though not richest, layers of oil shale, Fowler said. By recovering oil from the deepest layers, which lie beneath groundwater, the company eliminated any need to steam-strip the area from which it removed kerogen. That, combined with other efforts to reduce and better manage water, could reduce the ratio of water to oil to 0.3 barrels of water to 1 barrel of oil. It also would leave the richest layers of shale still available for development with more refined techniques in the future, Fowler said. Shell’s estimates include domestic water and usage for reclamation and other purposes.
The most kerogen-rich oil shale in the world sits in northwest Colorado, under thousands of feet of overburden and Shell’s departure leaves one company pursuing development of shale in place, with little surface disturbance.
Two companies, Enefit American Oil and Red leaf Resources, are mining more shallow resources in Utah and heating them to recover oil.
Shell’s estimates don’t apply to those techniques, but Enefit American Oil says its methods will require between one and three barrels of water per barrel of oil, with the likely outcome closer to the lower end.
Opponents of oil shale development frequently cite a Government Accountability Office report, widely panned by industry officials, citing water needs at seven barrels per barrel of oil produced.
More oil shale coverage here via Gary Harmon writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
While oil shale development in the United States suffered a blow when Shell Oil announced it was pulling out of its much-touted Mahogany project, other nations are encouraging industry development. Genie Energy, which is still moving ahead on its project in northwest Colorado, has a new project in Mongolia. Irati Energy, based in Canada, is moving ahead on a pilot oil shale project in Brazil. Enefit American Oil, a subsidiary of Eesti Energia, the world’s largest oil shale company, also has a concession, or lease, in Jordan, to produce electricity and oil from shale deposits there.
And while Shell pulled out of Colorado, it didn’t pull out of oil shale. The international energy giant still is working on an oil shale project in Jordan, despite abandoning its plans to produce oil from shale in the Colorado portion of the Green River formation.
China, Morocco and other countries are seeing development of their oil shale deposits, as well.
Northwest Colorado, the focal point of the richest, thickest deposits of oil shale in the world, however, is seeing no new interest in its deposit even as Enefit American Oil is working to produce oil from shale in neighboring Utah.
David Argyle organized Irati Energy to begin work on the Brazil project and he’s on the lookout for new resources. He’s not looking immediately at the U.S., however.
“We don’t have the time or patience” to work through the regulatory issues facing oil shale development in the United States, Argyle said, noting that he doesn’t reject development in the United States out of hand.
The industry, however, has to overcome emotional opposition, despite having a good environmental record, Argyle said.
“In Brazil, we’re getting quietly on with it. In Israel, they’re getting quietly on with it,” Argyle said of oil shale development.
Boom-bust cycles aren’t a major issue because the Brazil project anticipates a 200-year lifespan, Argyle said.
Another project in Brazil has a 300-year lifespan, he said.
The development around the world demonstrates that “oil shale has a global footprint” that is growing, Argyle said. That footprint expanded into Mongolia by accident, said Claude Pupkin, Genie Energy CEO. Genie Energy sent a geologist to Mongolia on an unrelated mission and he stumbled on a “world class,” previously unrecognized oil shale deposit, Pupkin said.
“We’ll do a pilot project that is smaller than AMSO,” Pupkin said, referring to the American Shale Oil project in Colorado.
In both cases, the projects will be in-situ, meaning that there will be little surface disturbance. Genie obtained commercial production rights and is working with the government in Mongolia to establish a regulatory system for development, Pupkin said.
Colorado’s deep oil shale deposits don’t fit with the retorting technology developed in Estonia, Enefit American Oil CEO Rikki Hrenko said.
Update: From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
With the shadow of Nazi occupation looming over the country, Sweden turned to oil shale in 1940.
“Oil shale got the Swedish economy through World War II,” Dr. Harold Vinegar said.
Vinegar outlined for the Oil Shale Symposium at Colorado School of Mines last week how Sweden exploited a low-grade oil shale deposit near the town of Kvantorp, using an in-situ process that bore a striking resemblance to the in-situ process Shell Oil Co. was pursuing in northwest Colorado. Vinegar is an oil and energy scientist who spent more than 30 years with Shell.
The Swedes already were mining the same oil shale deposit when they became frustrated by the cost and difficulty of digging to reach the shale they retorted to produce oil, Vinegar said.
Fredrick Ljungstrom came up with the idea of heating the shale in place and leaving the soil above it undisturbed. Ljungstrom drove heating elements in a closely spaced hexagonal pattern down into the shale and sunk a collection well in the center.
The heaters and wells were shallow, in the tens of feet instead of the thousands of feet below the surface in the Piceance Basin.
Making the project more difficult was the lack of electricity. Ljunsgstrom could only get electricity to heat the shale four months of the year, during the spring runoff, when hydroelectric power was available, Vinegar said.
During those months, Ljungstrom used a mobile transformer to direct power into the cells he was using at any given time to heat the rock to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
“It really was a brilliant idea,” Vinegar said.
And it worked.
The Ljungstrom process produced 90,000 barrels of oil from 1942 to 1945 and 1.5 million barrels during its production life that ended in 1959. The oil produced from Ljungstrom’s in-situ process was lighter and cleaner than the oil produced from the retort process on the same deposit, Vinegar said. Groundwater beneath the deposit was protected by an impermeable clay layer that prevented contamination, Vinegar said.
In addition to inventing what is known as the Ljungstrom process for oil shale, Ljungstrom was also a co-inventor, with his brother, of high-pressure steam boilers, steam turbines and steam locomotives.
He also was a sailing innovator and the Ljungstrom rig — an arrangement of sails — is named for him.
The land he used to produce oil from shale over the years has changed.
“The area revegetated naturally,” Vinegar said. “It’s now a park where the in-situ process was run.”
More oil shale coverage here and here.