Natural Soda ready to work on oil shale

A company that has been mining sodium bicarbonate for 20 years in northwest Colorado wants to try its hand at squeezing oil from the surrounding rock.

Natural Soda Holdings Inc. is one of two companies that submitted plans of operation for 160-acre oil shale research-and-development tracts to the Bureau of Land Management.

Natural Soda’s approach is to drill a vertical well from which it removes nahcolite, or sodium bicarbonate, leaving a chamber. A natural-gas-fired burner would be placed in the chamber and used to heat the surrounding rock to free hydrocarbons, or kerogen and light petroleum products, trapped in the shale. The freed liquids and gases then would be collected using conventional production wells.

“We’ve been developing the technology for mining nahcolite for the last 20 years, and we have become the experts at that,”  Bob Warneke, manufacturing director for Natural Soda, said Thursday.

The company’s nahcolite and oil shale operations could operate in tandem, benefiting each other, Warneke said.

Company officials expect that the “closed loop” between the nahcolite and oil shale operations will keep water requirements low, Warneke said.

“We still have a lot of work to do on the research and development side, which, frankly, everybody does,” he said.

Plans of operation by Natural Soda and ExxonMobil will be the subject of public meetings in Rifle and Meeker.

ExxonMobil is seeking to test its Electrofrac technology, with which the company hopes to use electricity to heat shale and free the trapped hydrocarbons.

Both companies’ plans are to be detailed in two meetings, one on April 27 in the Garfield County Fairgrounds Event Hall, 1001 Railroad Ave., in Rifle, and the other on April 28 in Mountain Valley Bank, 400 Main St., Meeker. Each is from 4 to 7 p.m.

The BLM also is conducting meetings on the drafting of a programmatic environmental impact statement on the second round of oil shale research-and-development leases.

Meetings on that part will be from 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. May 3 at the West Garfield Campus of Colorado Mountain College, 3695 Airport Road, in Rifle.


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