Energy policy — oil shale: Update on current production efforts

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From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The company has run successful tests with the “Electrofrac” technology in its Colony Mine near the east end of the 150-mile stretch and now wants to try it on a larger plot of land leased from the federal government for research and development of oil shale…

The company ran tests for the first time in September on land it owns, proving it could use electricity to heat surrounding rock, setting the stage for further tests of the Electrofrac process. The resistive heating element far beneath the surface will heat up just as the coils in a toaster do, but the ExxonMobil technique heats rock. By heating the surrounding rock to 300 degrees Centrigrade, ExxonMobil hopes to free oil shale’s petroleum-like treasure and allow it to migrate, much like gas or oil, to collection wells that would draw out the kerogen for refining. That heat would be contained within the rock and couldn’t be detected from several thousand feet above on the surface, McGinn said. The process the company envisions calls for the use of horizontal drilling instead of vertical drilling to limit the amount of surface disturbance, McGinn said.

Assuming that the process works on a large scale, ExxonMobil sees tantalizing prospects for shale: up to 162,000 barrels of oil per surface acre at a 50 percent recovery rate. The results suggest a 3-to-1 ratio of energy recovered over energy expended to obtain it, McGinn said…

Even under the most optimistic of scenarios, ExxonMobil sees no production coming from oil shale for 10 to 24 years, McGinn said…

Exxon can use some of the natural gas it’s drilling on the Piceance Basin to supply the electricity needed to collect the kerogen, McGinn said. It appears ExxonMobil can make its process work using about 1.5 barrels of water for each barrel of oil produced, he said. To place that in some perspective, production of 500,000 barrels a day, “and that would be huge,” would require about 3,500 acre-feet per year of water, McGinn said.

Meanwhile here’s a look at an Arizona company’s efforts to use a technology patented in China to mine kerogen from oil shale, from Gary Harmon writing for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. From the article:

“AuraSource’s ability to secure high-grade oil shale resource together with its strategic location for processing oil shale puts it in a very unique position to utilize our technology,” Cao Zhide, president of the Energy and Environmental Research Institute of Heilongjiang, said in a statement issued when the 20-year license was granted. “We look forward to a long-term cooperation between our Chinese and U.S. companies.”

AuraSource will apply to participate in the second round of leases of 160-acre research, development and demonstration tracts on shale land in western Colorado and eastern Utah. The process uses what the company calls an “economical and highly-efficient low temperature catalytic process to convert oil shale, bitumen or low-ranking coal to oil, gas and semi-coke.”

AuraSource, which has tested its process with shale in China, uses a surface-retorting process, Stoppenhagen said. “We enter in a catalyst to enable processing of oil shale to occur at a much lower temperature than competing technologies,” Stoppenhagen said. “The other technologies have required much higher temperatures in which the kerogen in oil shale is converted into synthetic crude oil. The higher temperatures make these other technologies more costly and less efficient.”[…]

AuraSource is evaluating the environmental effects of its process, but officials believe “our technology is more environmentally friendly than any current technology in use,” Stoppenhagen said. The company is concerned about the land use, waste disposal, water use, wastewater management, climate change, wildlife impacts, endangered flora and fauna, socioeconomic changes and air pollution, and it is working to minimize effects of the process, he said.

Red Leaf Resources is trying to dig up investors for their open pit mining plans for oil shale in eastern Utah, according to Gary Harmon writing for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. From the article:

Once it has the investors, “We believe we can do that from the time of permitting to construction in 18 to 24 months,” said Laura Nelson, vice president of energy and environment for Red Leaf Resources.

Once all its pieces are in place, the company expects to “roast” the shale for three months to bring it to the point it gives up the hydocarbon trapped within, Nelson said. That’s far shorter than the years-long heating period anticipated by many of the companies working on in situ approaches that would leave the shale undisturbed deep below the surface. Red Leaf Resources “EcoShale in-capsule” process will be 92 percent efficient in coaxing the petroleum from the rock and use little water, about one barrel for every five barrels of high-quality oil it produces, Nelson said. Natural gas also will be freed from the shale and used to heat the rods, Nelson said. “We’ll be energy self-sufficient after the first cell,” she said. At full production of 30,000 barrels a day, Red Leaf Resources can deliver its product for $20.21 per barrel, not including transportation, the company said…

Red Leaf Resources is working on 17,000 acres of state-owned lands in Utah. It’s not one of the companies working on federal lands leased out for research and development. After they’ve been heated by the EcoShale process, those lands will look much as they did before, though the mounds will be higher because of the expansion effect from the heating process, Nelson said.

Here’s a look at oil shale potential and current efforts, from Gary Harmon writing for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. From the article:

The Green River Formation of western Colorado, eastern Utah and Wyoming is estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey to contain the equivalent of 2 trillion barrels of oil, with the largest portion, 1.5 trillion barrels, residing in the Piceance Basin. That’s about half again what the survey believed was hidden in oil shale 20 years ago…

Royal Dutch Shell is working on three, 160-acre research plots on federal lands in Rio Blanco County aimed at showing that shale can be heated in place to release hydrocarbons. French petroleum giant Total is part of another experimental plot that hopes to show it can recover petroleum from oil shale by burning the deepest parts of the deposits to heat the higher levels and free kerogen above. Petrobras, the Brazilian multinational energy company headquartered in Rio de Janeiro, along with Mitsui & Co., a Japanese investment and trading company, is working with the Oil Shale Exploration Co. on the possibility of duplicating in Utah the operations of Petrosbras’ gas-combustion retort it has operated for 30 years in Brazil. ExxonMobil, the world’s largest energy company, has been working now for years on the shale lands it owns to find an economic way of producing fuel from western Colorado’s rock. Even China has taken an interest in the potential riches of oil shale in general, and specifically those in western Colorado. AuraSource, an Arizona-based, publicly-held company, wants one of the BLM’s 160-acre research parcels, so it can test technology patented by the Chinese government and originally used with coal.

More oil shale coverage here and here.

2 thoughts on “Energy policy — oil shale: Update on current production efforts

  1. July 2010

    Is there any update on the Red Leaf oil shale project. Start date? Investors ?


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