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Son Of God
Registered: 02/19/04
Posts: 1,459
Last seen: 5 years, 7 months
A Marshall Plan for American Energy
    #4693361 - 09/22/05 01:43 AM (12 years, 6 months ago)



By Linda Seebach, Rocky Mountain News

When oil prices last touched record highs - actually, after adjusting for inflation we're not there yet, but given the effects of Hurricane Katrina, we probably will be soon - politicians' response was more hype than hope. Oil shale in Colorado! Tar sands in Alberta! OPEC be damned!

Remember the Carter-era Synfuels Corp. debacle? It was a response to the '70s energy shortages, closed down in 1985 after accomplishing essentially nothing at great expense, which is pretty much a description of what usually happens when the government tries to take over something that the private sector can do better. Private actors are, after all, spending their own money.

Since 1981, Shell researchers at the company's division of "unconventional resources" have been spending their own money trying to figure out how to get usable energy out of oil shale. Judging by the presentation the Rocky Mountain News heard this week, they think they've got it.

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.


They don't need subsidies; the process should be commercially feasible with world oil prices at $30 a barrel. The energy balance is favorable; under a conservative life-cycle analysis, it should yield 3.5 units of energy for every 1 unit used in production. The process recovers about 10 times as much oil as mining the rock and crushing and cooking it at the surface, and it's a more desirable grade. Reclamation is easier because the only thing that comes to the surface is the oil you want.

And we've hardly gotten to the really ingenious part yet. While the rock is cooking, at about 650 or 750 degrees Fahrenheit, how do you keep the hydrocarbons from contaminating ground water? Why, you build an ice wall around the whole thing. As O'Connor said, it's counterintuitive.

But ice is impermeable to water. So around the perimeter of the productive site, you drill lots more shafts, only 8 to 12 feet apart, put in piping, and pump refrigerants through it. The water in the ground around the shafts freezes, and eventually forms a 20- to 30-foot ice barrier around the site.

Next you take the water out of the ground inside the ice wall, turn up the heat, and then sit back and harvest the oil until it stops coming in useful quantities. When production drops, it falls off rather quickly.

That's an advantage over ordinary wells, which very gradually get less productive as they age.

Then you pump the water back in. (Well, not necessarily the same water, which has moved on to other uses.) It's hot down there so the water flashes into steam, picking up loose chemicals in the process. Collect the steam, strip the gunk out of it, repeat until the water comes out clean. Then you can turn off the heaters and the chillers and move on to the next plot (even saving one or two of the sides of the ice wall, if you want to be thrifty about it).

Most of the best territory for this astonishing process is on land under the control of the Bureau of Land Management. Shell has applied for a research and development lease on 160 acres of BLM land, which could be approved by February. That project would be on a large enough scale so design of a commercial facility could begin.

The 2005 energy bill altered some provisions of the 1920 Minerals Leasing Act that were a deterrent to large-scale development, and also laid out a 30-month timetable for establishing federal regulations governing commercial leasing.

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.

I'll say it again. Wow.


It is time for a Marshall Plan for America.

It is time to invest money in Shale Oil and the Canadian Tar Sands in Alberta. It is time to drill Anwar and start tapping all that delicious oil.

I am all for alternative forms on energy, but that won't happen overnight or even the next couple of decades. Energy is critical to national defense. Our "strategic reserves" are so small that they won't put up much of a strategic defense.

The Tar Sands of Alberta are booming in business right now. The price point per barrel is something like $15 a pop. They use abundant natural gas to extract it. I say build some nuclear power plants to extract it and pipe that natural gas to the marketplace.

Shell says the breakeven price point on Shale Oil is $30 a barrel. And they are sitting on a boatload of it. If that is the case, we need them to get going on it. If the Feds have to sign off on a minimum purchase at $30 bucks a barrel for a decade or two I say sign up. You want a true strategic reserve for national defense? That is where you are going to find it. And if the price of oil falls below 30 bucks a barrel the taxpayers would be on the hook for the difference, but if that happens the economy would boom with the benefit of cheap oil, and any harm could easily be offset.

We need to get the tar sands and the shale oil industry going at full bore. We need to tap ANWAR and get it flowing. We can produce plenty of oil here in this country, and we need to do that now.

We also need to start building nuclear power plants and dot this nation with them. The Japanese and French do it, and it burns clean. We need to rebuild our energy grids so that they are more dependable, less succeptable to attack, and more energy efficient. Think of how much energy we waste just on the outdated power grid. We can settle our energy needs for the next 50 or 60 years, and by that time we should have discovered the next big thing.

Bill Clinton came out recently and said the the bright side of high oil prices is that the market will react with creativity and innovation. I agree with him. The high price of oil makes people look at alternatives, and alternatives are a good thing. It also makes people look again at nuclear power, ANWAR, the tar sands, and Colorado shale.

We also could use more efficient rail systems that are powered on electric coming from nuclear power plants. Get those trucks off the road, conserve oil and gas, and clean the air.

The last President to balance the budget and actually pay back some on the national debt was Ike. Which is somewhat incredible considering that his administration presided over an America that built the infrastructure of our national interstate highway system and the St. Lawrence Seaway, which connected the great lakes to the Atlantic and made small cities 1500 miles inland into ocean ports that exported commondities from the American heartland. The St. Lawrence Seaway project was perhaps the largest government project that has ever occured, and it took two governments (US and Canada) to complete it. The Interstate highway project was also massive in design. Even though I am a small government conservative, I can see the merits of large projects designed for energy, security, commerce and infrastructure. Those projects benefited the country in both terms of jobs and dollars.

The time has come to stop government spending on feel good BS projects and put Americans to work building the infrastructure that will give us security and success for decades to come. It is time for a Marshall Plan for America. We need to quit complaining and blaming and get this shyt done. It is all doable. Let's roll.

Tastes just like chicken

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old hand

Registered: 09/11/01
Posts: 1,351
Loc: BC Canada
Re: A Marshall Plan for American Energy [Re: JesusChrist]
    #4693443 - 09/22/05 02:04 AM (12 years, 6 months ago)

Oil thats twice as hard to extract as Alberta tar sand oil?

Thats not so great.

  -I'd rather have a frontal lobotomy than a bottle in front of me


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Son Of God
Registered: 02/19/04
Posts: 1,459
Last seen: 5 years, 7 months
Re: A Marshall Plan for American Energy [Re: carbonhoots]
    #4696390 - 09/22/05 07:22 PM (12 years, 6 months ago)

$30 bucks a barrel ain't bad compared to today's prices, and I would rather pay Americans than Arabs. I am impressed with what Alberta has done with the tar sands. They are probably rolling in money with the current prices, and good for them for taking the initiative.

Tastes just like chicken

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Error: divide byzero

Folding@home Statistics
Registered: 04/27/01
Posts: 23,480
Loc: Caribbean
Last seen: 16 days, 12 hours
Re: A Marshall Plan for American Energy [Re: JesusChrist]
    #4700191 - 09/23/05 01:04 PM (12 years, 6 months ago)

> and I would rather pay Americans than Arabs.

Isn't that the truth... I would be willing to pay higher gas prices if I knew the money was staying local... I somehow doubt it is that easy though.

Just another spore in the wind.

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