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Shell's Ingenious Approach To Oil Shale Is Pretty Slick
Rocky Mountain News ^ | Saturday, September 3, 2005 | Linda Seebach

Posted on 09/03/2005 1:58:07 PM PDT by Mount Athos

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.

Wow.

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.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; US: Colorado
KEYWORDS: cary; energy; oil; shale; shelloil
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To: SAJ

From my understanding, isn't that was the ice walls are designed to accomplish? I understand that that would create a walled structure leaving the bottom open. I assume though that the shale and rock would maybe act as a liner on the bottom? I'm sure the engineers thinking of this already figured that out.


51 posted on 09/03/2005 3:08:47 PM PDT by Brian328i (Save clean mountain streams, don't let hippies bathe in them.)
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To: oceanagirl
The Energy Returned on Energy Invested ("ERoEI") of shale oil is reported to be quite low, say 3:2 to 2:1,

The article states: 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.

"Shale oil" isn't even real oil. It's a substance called kerogen, which is an oil precursor. It requires considerable, energy-intensive processing to turn it into usable products, like gasoline, diesel and heating oil. It also has required considerable amounts of water to process, which is in very short supply in the intermountain west, unlike northern Alberta.

The article states: "Product" - about one-third natural gas, two-thirds light crude

52 posted on 09/03/2005 3:12:58 PM PDT by Jeff Chandler (Peace Begins in the Womb)
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To: Mount Athos
Study reveals huge U.S. oil-shale field

Seattle Times By Jennifer Talhelm, AP

Thursday, September 1, 2005 - 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON — The United States has an oil reserve at least three times that of Saudi Arabia locked in oil-shale deposits beneath federal land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, according to a study released yesterday.

But the researchers at the RAND think tank caution the federal government to go carefully, balancing the environmental and economic impacts with development pressure to prevent an oil-shale bust later.

"We've got more oil in this very compact area than the entire Middle East," said James Bartis, RAND senior policy researcher and the report's lead author. ...

For years, the industry and the government considered oil shale — a rock that produces petroleum when heated — too expensive to be a feasible source of oil. However, oil prices, which spiked above $70 a barrel this week, combined with advances in technology could soon make it possible to tap the estimated 500 billion to 1.1 trillion recoverable barrels, the report found.

The study, sponsored in part by the U.S. Department of Energy, comes about a month after the president signed a new energy policy dramatically reversing the nation's approach to oil shale and opening the door within a few years to companies that want to tap deposits on public lands.

The report also says oil-shale mining, above-ground processing and disposing of spent shale cause significant adverse environmental impacts. Shell Oil is working on a process that would heat the oil shale in place, which could have less effect on the environment.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

53 posted on 09/03/2005 3:14:47 PM PDT by GretchenM (Hooked on porn and hating it? Visit http://www.theophostic.com .)
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To: MplsSteve

Wonder if they could use the radioactive waste in the holding tanks destined for Nevada as a heat source. Two birds with one stone....


54 posted on 09/03/2005 3:17:11 PM PDT by Kozak (Anti Shahada: " There is no God named Allah, and Muhammed is his False Prophet")
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To: Maceman

50m bbls/sqmi wouldn't be bad.


55 posted on 09/03/2005 3:17:59 PM PDT by Old Professer (As darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good; innocence is blind.)
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To: Brilliant
Alright, but it took them ten months to get 1,500 barrels of oil. That is not enough.

It was a proof of concept test well, not a production prototype.
56 posted on 09/03/2005 3:21:27 PM PDT by Kozak (Anti Shahada: " There is no God named Allah, and Muhammed is his False Prophet")
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To: SAJ

Obviously, I only skimmed when I should have read carefully.

The technique described leaves a lot of material that could be likened to heavy oil in the ground as it pulls out the lighter factions.

I'd like to see this work, but I'll believe the 3.5:1 when I see it. I guess I've been reading too much EnergyResources on yahoo.

For the person who suggested nuclear, you might want to consider the eastern shales. There's plenty of water for both cooling and processing in the east, and there's a potential deposit in Tennessee (I believe), that will also yield uranium. In addition, the eastern shales are supposed to plump up much more with the hydrogen addition than are western shales.

I will be interesting to see how this plays out this time around.


57 posted on 09/03/2005 3:34:47 PM PDT by oceanagirl
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To: Mount Athos

BTTT. Hope that work I did for Suncor Canada helps out.


58 posted on 09/03/2005 3:53:05 PM PDT by AZ_Cowboy ("Be ever vigilant, for you know not when the master is coming")
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To: Marine_Uncle
I don't see how what we all would like to see happen will come to past.

We start by un-electing the dolts that have led us into this mess. I have worked in enviromental matters for thirty years. We passed the point of diminishing returns on environmental protection a long time ago.

59 posted on 09/03/2005 3:58:14 PM PDT by stboz
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To: Vigilanteman
the sacred burial grounds of the dung beetle

I'm not an environazi but I have seen dung beetles in action and I have nothing but the greatest respect for their perseverance and tenacity. They will struggle, push, pull, and strain for hours to wrestle a dried out turd, fifty times their size and weight and basically worthless, over hills and through valleys until they arrive at their destination ... congress.

60 posted on 09/03/2005 4:04:58 PM PDT by layman (Card Carrying Infidel)
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To: Eagle Eye

I sure hope you are right, but don't expect them to go down with out an awful lot of crying, screaming, and in general having one hissy-fit after another. I've never seen people with such an intense hatred of America and capitalism in all my days. These environmentalists make me want to puke!


61 posted on 09/03/2005 4:08:02 PM PDT by Lurkus Maximus
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To: McGavin999

"We would be totally free of dependence on other countries for oil! That would be incredible."

That would mean quite a legacy for W if the Repubs were smart enough to push it.


62 posted on 09/03/2005 4:09:38 PM PDT by BadAndy (Yes liberals, I DO question your patriotism.)
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To: stboz

"I have worked in enviromental matters for thirty years. We passed the point of diminishing returns on environmental protection a long time ago."

Understand. Problem is getting congress and those running for POTUS to understand that.


63 posted on 09/03/2005 4:26:02 PM PDT by Marine_Uncle (Honor must be earned)
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To: Marine_Uncle

They don't give a sh*t. All they want is politcal power. I wouldn't piss on them if they were on fire.


64 posted on 09/03/2005 4:28:19 PM PDT by stboz
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To: Mount Athos

Sounds too complex to be viable to me. Also, it did not give the ratio of energy used to heat vs the energy extracted.


65 posted on 09/03/2005 4:33:43 PM PDT by bert (K.E. ; N.P . The wild winds of fortune will carry us onward)
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To: GeorgiaDawg32
In case nobody noticed, the enviro-weenies are out of office, and pro-capitalist, pro-technology Republicans hold all branches of government. They can cry all they want to, but they no longer make laws.
66 posted on 09/03/2005 4:34:00 PM PDT by JasonC
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To: stboz

"They don't give a sh*t. All they want is politcal power. I wouldn't piss on them if they were on fire."

And there lies the underlining problem. As for pissing on them if they where on fire. Smart move, they might emit truely noxious gases. Hang in there.


67 posted on 09/03/2005 4:35:54 PM PDT by Marine_Uncle (Honor must be earned)
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To: Brilliant
The real question is not the time, which is just starting up, but the capital investment required. But that goes into the price calculation, and the claim is the answer is $30. Which is a perfectly believeable figure. German synthetic gas from coal in WW II cost about $60. Naturally, when you can get oil out of the ground in Saudi Arabia for $3, it does not make sense to pay $30 for extraction, if the Saudis meet demand. But then, if they meet demand, the price shouldn't be $70 when the cost is $3. If they don't meet demand, you can cap prices by just putting enough of this online, and paying for supplimental shale oil whenever prices go above the cost.
68 posted on 09/03/2005 4:37:37 PM PDT by JasonC
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To: Marine_Uncle

Atlas needs to Shrug.


69 posted on 09/03/2005 4:38:04 PM PDT by stboz
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To: Tanniker Smith
Sorry, the corn is spoken for. World food output will feed rising world population through 2060 readily enough, but without much "over" to spare. World energy consumption is half the scale of all photosynthesis at this point, only a tiny fraction of the latter being human controlled agriculture. Farmland adds the most value feeding people not cars, and there are going to be plenty of people to feed.
70 posted on 09/03/2005 4:41:35 PM PDT by JasonC
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To: oceanagirl
All energy processing consumes vast amounts of energy. Doesn't matter in the least, as long as the balance is positive.
71 posted on 09/03/2005 4:44:47 PM PDT by JasonC
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To: stboz

"Atlas needs to Shrug."
Might help losen up those sedimentary layers to drip more oil out. Ya. Men/Women of ability are hard to find in this fast talk world.


72 posted on 09/03/2005 4:45:17 PM PDT by Marine_Uncle (Honor must be earned)
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To: afraidfortherepublic

The problem is that it cost the Saudis $4 a barrel to get oil out of their deserts. The have a HUGE built in price advantage that shale will never overcome.


73 posted on 09/03/2005 4:47:04 PM PDT by ElTianti
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To: Marine_Uncle
Not a problem. They can have political power if we get cheap energy, and if we don't they can run checkout at WalMart. They will get the message.
74 posted on 09/03/2005 4:48:34 PM PDT by JasonC
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To: Eagle Eye
"I'm predicting that Katrina will deal a crippling blow to enviroweenies as well as 99% of anyti-military sentiment."

BINGO!

The easily forseen (and thus avoidable) hard knock that always results every time the half-baked ideas of Marxist DemocRATS are allowed to be put into practice, is sadly what it always takes to wake up the wishy-washy "moderates".

75 posted on 09/03/2005 4:49:36 PM PDT by Matchett-PI (Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind'. Albert Einstein)
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To: Brian328i
Perhaps that's it. If SOME layer of shale will or can be forced to act as the ''bottom'' of the ''cauldron'', then the deal is sealed.

I think you're probably spot on or very close. I should have thought it through a bit more, evidently.

76 posted on 09/03/2005 4:53:23 PM PDT by SAJ
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To: ElTianti
The problem is that it cost the Saudis $4 a barrel to get oil out of their deserts. The have a HUGE built in price advantage that shale will never overcome.

Therein lies the problem. If it costs them $4/barrel to get out product that zero value to non-raghead, human, non-muslim primates because we won't do business with them.....I can dream can't I? We have no honor. ($1.99/gal? WHERE? TELL ME! PLEEEEASE!!!))

77 posted on 09/03/2005 4:53:29 PM PDT by stboz
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To: Mount Athos
Isn't this Royal Dutch Shell?

They have got to be on our boycott list.

78 posted on 09/03/2005 4:53:29 PM PDT by Doe Eyes
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To: BadAndy

Right you are. Another element in cost analysis is the savings in military costs. Without being dependent on foreign oil our entire foreign policy could change. We would not really need a military establishment at the level it now is. I'm pro-military but I would like to see them all home and defending only the U.S. and its' territories. The need to project power would be drastically reduced. The savings would probaably be on the order of 75%. Lots of bucks. Energy independence is, IMHO, a national security matter of the utmost urgency.


79 posted on 09/03/2005 4:53:51 PM PDT by 11B40 (times change, people don't)
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To: bert

Yes it did. 3.5/1


80 posted on 09/03/2005 4:54:40 PM PDT by SAJ
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To: oceanagirl
It will indeed.

;^)

81 posted on 09/03/2005 4:58:14 PM PDT by SAJ
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To: JasonC

"Not a problem. They can have political power if we get cheap energy, and if we don't they can run checkout at WalMart. They will get the message."

All have the message. Have had for some thirty years. As for as cheap energy on a national scale. Energy sources and how they are used are only part of the equation. We shall always need petroleum based products, that are not obtainable from other sources. Such as lubricants, jet fuel, heating oil, natural gas for cooking/home heating etc., and the diverse fractions that come from petroleum oil for literally hundreds of thousands of end products, not to mentioned all the required derived chemicals used in so many processes.
We need oil, and I am not talking about plant derived oils such as corn, cotton seed, soybean etc.. They cannot be cracked to obtain the extremely short list I make mention of above. It is all a bit more complicated then many of us understand believe me.


82 posted on 09/03/2005 5:11:22 PM PDT by Marine_Uncle (Honor must be earned)
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To: All
Re: Oil and Gas - LISTEN TO THIS - it's a classic!

9/1/2005 Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), a dangerous embarrassment

CLICK TO LISTEN

83 posted on 09/03/2005 5:38:06 PM PDT by Matchett-PI (Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind'. Albert Einstein)
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To: Enchante

We went from jungle to rain forest, swamp to wetland... What can "desert" be turned into? "Sun-surfeited biome" maybe?


84 posted on 09/03/2005 5:39:52 PM PDT by Dumb_Ox (Be not Afraid. "Perfect love drives out fear.")
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To: oceanagirl

ping


85 posted on 09/03/2005 5:42:03 PM PDT by southland
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To: SAJ

Bookmarking


86 posted on 09/03/2005 6:23:26 PM PDT by Big Giant Head (I should change my tagline to "Big Giant Pancake on my Head")
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To: JasonC
JasonC said: "But then, if [the Saudis] meet demand, the price shouldn't be $70 when the cost is $3."

The cost of producing Saudi oil is only $3 per barrel but the value of their as yet untapped reserves is more than that by quite a bit. That is why they can deliver oil at a profit.

The prospect of producing oil from shale in the US for $30 per barrel also explains why it is unlikely that world oil prices can remain as high as they are. How much shale oil will be produced if the world price of crude falls to $28? Practically none.

I believe that it is impossible for the US to reduce its dependence on foreign oil as long as the Saudis continue pumping.

87 posted on 09/03/2005 7:14:06 PM PDT by William Tell
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To: JasonC
Well, that's simple. Just kill the cows. There are farms in Penn Dutch country that grow lots and lots of corn, but they feed it all to the cows. Eat the cows and make plastic from the corn.

TS

88 posted on 09/03/2005 7:17:13 PM PDT by Tanniker Smith (The previous post is as serious as you want it to be.)
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To: abbi_normal_2; adam_az; Alamo-Girl; Alas; alfons; alphadog; AMDG&BVMH; amom; AndreaZingg; ...
Rights, farms, environment ping.
Let me know if you wish to be added or removed from this list.
I don't get offended if you want to be removed.

List of Ping lists

89 posted on 09/03/2005 7:20:21 PM PDT by freepatriot32 (Deep within every dilemma is a solution that involves explosives)
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To: Tanniker Smith
Tell Atkins. The trend in diet is the reverse, and people are willing to pay for food choices. Human beings aren't livestock, that one could engineer their diets for physical efficiency in engineering terms. We will need the food.
90 posted on 09/03/2005 7:24:15 PM PDT by JasonC
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To: Mount Athos

I'll say it too. Wow.


91 posted on 09/03/2005 7:25:19 PM PDT by patton ("Hard Drive Cemetary" - forthcoming best seller)
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To: freepatriot32

BTTT


92 posted on 09/03/2005 7:28:43 PM PDT by Fiddlstix (This Tagline for sale. (Presented by TagLines R US))
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To: thestob

bump for later


93 posted on 09/03/2005 7:31:43 PM PDT by thestob (Vote or P. Diddy will kill you)
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To: Jackknife

Let the heathen Sa-uds pound sand, PIIINNGGGG


94 posted on 09/03/2005 7:36:59 PM PDT by The Drowning Witch (Sono La Voce della Nazione Selvaggia)
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To: SAJ

"As asked earlier, how do they prevent an enormous loss of liquid via seepage?"

I don't know. Sorry. I'm sure the pumping system is in place around the localized heating to get the majority, however.


95 posted on 09/03/2005 8:01:13 PM PDT by Flightdeck (Like the turtle, science makes progress only with its neck out.)
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To: All

Link:

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1476358/posts


96 posted on 09/03/2005 8:36:55 PM PDT by Matchett-PI (Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind'. Albert Einstein)
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To: Mount Athos

ping


97 posted on 09/03/2005 9:47:05 PM PDT by southland
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To: ElTianti

Shale may never overcome the price advantage that the Saudis currently enjoy, but unless they decide to engage in a price war, I think there is plenty of room for profit at $50-$60 per barrel. Shell says their recovery method is profitable at $30 per barrel, and that seemed to be the price break with previous methods too. They were doing a lot of shale extraction in the 1970s, and then it died off when prices fell.

My husband says that they could probably get an operation up and running in three months. Let's hope those hearings go well. This would be a real boon to the economy of the mountain states where most of the shale is located. And we could be calling the shots for once.


98 posted on 09/03/2005 9:50:05 PM PDT by afraidfortherepublic
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To: Brilliant
...it took them ten months to get 1,500 barrels of oil...

It was a small pilot project.

99 posted on 09/03/2005 9:51:47 PM PDT by afraidfortherepublic
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To: GeorgiaDawg32
...you're still going to have a percentage of them (no idea what that percentage would be) that will still want Uncle Sam to take care of them...

My premise is that they would have to apply for these jobs and be eager to move there. Anyone not cooperating, or misbehaving, would be kicked out.

100 posted on 09/03/2005 9:54:52 PM PDT by afraidfortherepublic
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