Shell Oil moves forward on its oil shale plans

Shell Oil this year will resubmit its application to test its freezewall technology on federal lands in northwest Colorado as it moves ahead with plans to produce petroleum from oil shale.

Shell two years ago withdrew a permit application for the test, but is now geared up to restart the effort, said Tracy Boyd, communications and sustainability manager for Shell’s Mahogany Project.

It likely will take about a year for officials to act on the application, meaning the earliest Shell is likely to proceed is 2010, he said.

Shell has been working on its freezewall technology on the company’s private land and now is prepared to return to its research-and-development lease to show it can work on a large area, Boyd said.

Shell is confident it can heat oil shale over a period of years, freeing petroleum distillates from the surrounding rock and collecting them in an operation similar to conventional drilling. By surrounding the lands that the company hopes to heat with a ring of ice, or freezewall, Shell hopes to prevent groundwater contamination from the heated area.

If Shell can demonstrate its process works, it could seek to expand its three, 160-acre, research-and-development leases into plots of eight square miles from which it would produce commercial quantities of diesel, naptha and jet fuel needing little refining.

Shell says it is in no hurry to start drawing fuels from shale because it still has to show that the resource can be profitable while being environmentally responsible and socially sustainable.

Shell probably won’t decide whether to seek commercial development until the middle of the next decade, and the company might not be the first to produce commercial quantities from shale, Boyd said.

Shell also is looking at a variety of power sources to provide the power to heat the rock, everything from coal, natural gas, nuclear and even wind power, he said.

Even though much attention is being paid to renewable sources of energy, the company’s expectations are the demand for liquid fuels will double or triple by 2050, Boyd said.

“Renewables are the energy future that’s clearly coming,” he said, “but it’s not coming tomorrow.”


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