Shell’s methods use less water to get oil shale
GOLDEN — 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