Shell's Shale Plans...? (or Why I Am an Oil Shale Skeptic)

It isn't hard to see why I am an oil shale skeptic. I outlined my reasons in two essays on oil shale: “Oil Shale Development Imminent” and Oil Shale = Cellulosic Ethanol.

In those essays, I provided some history of oil shale, discussed Shell's unique process, as well as the reasons those "trillions of barrels" remain elusive. But one of Shell's recent moves has raised some eyebrows, as they are in the process of buying up water rights in Colorado to process the shale.

Green River Formation: Trillions of Barrels of Oil?

First, a quick review on their process. Shell's process is in situ retorting, as explained here:

Shell Oil is currently developing an in situ conversion process (ICP). The process involves heating underground oil shale, using electric heaters placed in deep vertical holes drilled through a section of oil shale. The volume of oil shale is heated over a period of two to three years, until it reaches 650–700 °F, at which point oil is released from the shale. The released product is gathered in collection wells positioned within the heated zone.

Shell's current plan involves use of ground-freezing technology to establish an underground barrier called a "freeze wall" around the perimeter of the extraction zone. The freeze wall is created by pumping refrigerated fluid through a series of wells drilled around the extraction zone. The freeze wall prevents groundwater from entering the extraction zone, and keeps hydrocarbons and other products generated by the in-situ retorting from leaving the project perimeter.

It is very difficult for me to see how any company is going to make a go of it, given the need to simulaneously heat and freeze the ground for several years. However, as I was recently passing through the Denver Airport - I spotted this story in the Denver Post:

Shell makes run on water

Shale country tends to be dry country, and Shell's process uses a lot of water. Some excerpts from the story:

In its quest to melt oil out of western Colorado's shale, Royal Dutch Shell has been buying up land and water rights in anticipation of what is likely to be a thirsty new industry.

Some officials, however, worry that the demands of the oil-shale industry could drain every drop of the region's remaining water.

"On the upper end, we're looking at potentially several hundred thousand acre-feet of water — more than people think is commonly available to develop in the Colorado River," said Dan Birch, deputy general manager for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

Shell and other energy companies have amassed tens of thousands of acres of cropland, ranches and open space — including a state wildlife area — to gain water that would be needed to power the oil-shale process.

Count me among those who thinks this is a bad idea. We are pulling down aquifers now; I hate to see us accelerate that process to produce oil from shale. The energy return is already going to be very marginal. If it was any better than that for tar sands, they would already be producing oil from shale. But now add the fact that they are going to be using up water in dry areas, and it looks to me like a losing proposition.

While the claims of the oil potential there are pretty huge, so are the water requirements:

The Bureau of Land Management estimates the shale formation in western Colorado could yield as much as 1.8 trillion barrels of oil.

Getting that oil, however, could require three times as much water to operate power plants, according to some estimates.

"The volumes are pretty enormous," said Bart Miller, water-program director for conservation group Western Resource Advocates.

"The net water requirements . . . were something in the neighborhood of 200,000 to 300,000 acre-feet annually," Miller said. "To put that in context, that's the consumption of about 2.5 million people."

A couple of things. First, there are also trillions of dollars of gold in the oceans. Just because a resource exists doesn't mean you can devise a cost-effective way to utilize it. Second, that 1.8 trillion is certainly not a net value. The net value is going to be far less, as it is going to take energy to process the oil. Even if the EROEI was 2 to 1, and I doubt it is, that would mean it would take almost a trillion barrels - all contributing more pollution to the environment - to process the 1.8 trillion barrels.

I remain skeptical. Oil shale, like cellulosic ethanol and algal biodiesel - has always been just around the corner from commercialization. I think it will remain around the corner. On the other hand, the people at Shell are buying up those water rights for a reason...

An old article by Youngquist in the Hubbert Center Newsletter

Walter Youngquist plans to publish the 2nd Edition of GeoDestinies. According to Amazon it is now scheduled for Aug 1, 2008. He will probably have more to say about so called oil shale

These are fantastic articles.

For my part, I think they will make a play trying to produce oil shales. That said, I don't think they'll be able to produce as much as they would like at the flow rates they would like to achieve. Seems like a terribly capital and energy intensive process. With such a high water demand in such a dry area, you'd think they are likely to run into limits pretty quick. That said, the US is desperate for domestic oil. So we'll see how this drama plays out.

IMO, 2-3 years is an awful long time to wait to bring these projects on line. I'd also like to see an EROEI on this freeze/electrify/extract process. My bet is it's worse than ethanol and worse than tar sands. And where are they going to get the electricity to bake/freeze the shale? Coal plants? Natural gas? Nuclear? Solar/wind?

As for cellulosic/algae -- it's starting to happen at the pilot/commercial level now. Another drama that should be informative to watch.

Oh, and an OT query -- Oil Watch Monthly??? I'm interested to see how you guys digest the latest EIA figures. Seems they've made another set of downward revisions...

On the other hand, the people at Shell are buying up those water rights for a reason...

Might it have something to do with declaring the shale leases as some potential class of reserves?

My thought exactly. There is no way there can be enough water to scale up this operation enough to be profitable. I can see a small scale "experimental" operation but that is it.

Spare water reserves in the Colorado basin generally end up in the faucets of Los Angeles. Thats the 2.5 million people that need the water.

The other thing that occurs to me is Shell is going to have great earnings. The folks managing those earnings (trying to deflate them for instance), might wish to sequester some money in a safe place. Those water rights are probably the best investment that's arguably energy related (therefore an expense) they can make.

What I'd really like to know about the whole process is whether anyone has defined at what point it becomes more economic for the power plants that need to be constructed to heat the rocks to just sell their electricity on to the grid.

I had a chance to ask a couple of questions of Shell engineers following a presentation they made at Colorado School of Mines. Back of the envelope, a million barrel per day operation would require electrical power close to the total amount currently generated in Colorado. Utah and Wyoming are already net electricity exporters; unless someone builds new transmission capacity to California (and such plans are proposed, from time to time), they would just be trying to compete with existing coal- and gas-fired generating capacity.

I also got to ask "If you put that amount of energy into oil shale, and you put the same amount into coal-to-liquids, which would generate more liquid fuel?" They said that their current systems analysis suggested that coal-to-liquids would produce more. As a Colorado resident, I have to say that I'll be happy to see them invest the money in coal-to-liquids in southern Illinois instead of oil shale in northwest Colorado. Between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, I assume they've got plenty of water to support it.

Robert - with spring water selling at $1 / litre, and with $159 litres in a barrel its clear that Shell have worked out the bottled water business is more profitable - especially since it by passes all that nasty exploration expenditure, and costly production and process facilities.

Two questions..

1) Do you think 'Shell Brand Bottled Water' Will still use the Familiar Scallop-shell Logo, so I can find it on the shelf?

2) Will it be available in a 'Non-sarcanolic' blend as well?

- I only wish I believed that Shell was diversifying their product-line as far as this suggestion takes it. If Coal companies, even long after they've started working Aboveground can still exhibit such economically dreamy 'tunnel vision'.. is it unlikely that the Oil Barons can escape their similar 'Pipe-Vision'?


Shell may be more clever in the long run in buying relatively inexpensive water rights with excess oil profits. They can write-off the expense in support of oil. Hold them for a while and then sell the water.

If I had shell's money I would be buying water rights also.

There are many problems related to water and oil shale. The water rights laws in CO are very restrictive and very specific about who gets water, and when they get water.

Water rights are prioritized Senior to Junior based on the filing date of the claim. Water rights were doled out in CO beginning in the 1850-60 time frames, based on crude estimates of flows of surface water. It is a complex set of rules. Generally water rights apply to surface rights, and wells are under different rules, but still related to surface rights. For example, you can not drill a water well and start pumping a lot of water out of an area without owning surface rights in the same basin. This is in recognition that water in the ground came from, and is part of, the surface flow system.

I have a hard time believing they will ever get enough water. First of all, flows in the Colorado River, which is the main source of water in the area, are also subject to the Colorado River compact signed by Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Arizona, Nevada and California. This in itself is another hugely contentious issue. A new agreement on use of the water was hammered out just a few months ago, and I doubt massive diversions for oil shale were included. They have been studying how to get water for shale out of the Colorado since the late-60's.

Part of the problem is that the amount of water allocated via water rights exceeds the actual amount of water available in a low water year. What happens during a low water near is interesting. If the flows are 70%, it isn't a 70% across the board decrease in the amount of water given to the holders of the water rights. The Senior holders get ALL of their water, one by one, starting with the oldest water right, and going until the water runs out. Junior rights get full amounts some years, none in others. I doubt an industrial process likes the idea of shutting down during low water years. I guessing part of the plans will include massive new reservoirs to prevent low water year issues.

Here is a good website .

Additionally, the Colorado River Compact was based on climatology estimates from what we now know was an anomalously wet period--the result is that current estimates are that the river is over-allocated during most years. This hasn't been a problem in the past, as allocations for Utah and Western Colorado were generally not fully used. Now, however, with additional population growth in Utah and Western Colorado, as well as greatly increased demand for water-intensive coal-bed methane production in those regions, the over-allocation problem is very real. There are many competing demands on the Colorado River: provide water to suburbia in Southern California and the Southwest, generate hydroelectricity via Glen Canyon dam (the most threatened at the moment), irrigate croplands in the Southwest, maximize coal-bed methane production, produce significant quantities of oil shale. Pick three.

If Shell is buying water rights they get the senority that goes with those rights. they do not go to the end of the line.

Absolutely. In fact the story in the Denver Post mentioned the seniority of some of the rights. But there is no way Shell can line up all of the senior rights in the area, which means that during low water years they will be subject to production curtailment. Furthermore, there is an absolute requirement to allow a certain amount of water to pass through the Colorado/Utah border, in essence a huge senior water right.

The way around this problem is to build reservoirs. Look for those proposals soon if Shell is serious, as reservoir permitting and build is a long process.

What if oil shale is still consumed but not as oil?

If the Energy Watch Groups coal forecast is correct there will be a shortage of coal in 20 years.

Then the oil shale could be looked at as a substitute for coal if a feasible way of extracting the oil from it has not yet been found.

It may end up being burned like coal as it has been in Estonia.

"If the Energy Watch Groups coal forecast is correct there will be a shortage of coal in 20 years."

They're not correct. That forecast assumes BAU pricing of alternatives, not disastrous energy shortages.

Oil shale is low density, and a pain to dispose of after burning (it expands). That's why even low-value coal is more attractive. That's also why retort conversion to oil is unattractive, and why Shell is considering in-situ conversion instead.

I've looked at shale oil a few times and I've become hesitant to totally write Shell off.

I suspect shale oil extraction could (possibly) be practical, even if I'd personally baulk at the environmental cost and suggest you'd be much better off building a whole lot of wind farms through the central states and CSP plants in Texas and the south west and get to work switching to electric transport.

As I understand it, their process involves using natural gas extracted from the shale during the heating process to produce the energy required to perform this process (the freezing being to create an icy rock "tub" of sorts to contain the oil in if I understood it correctly). The EROI may be still be low, but this would presumably be a big improvement on older processes.

The rare & beautiful native wildflower Penstemon grahamii grows only on highly calcareous oil shale outcroppings along the Colorado/Utah border. This species was proposed for listing as 'Threatened' under the Endangered Species Act but was denied listing by the Fish & Wildlife Service in 2006. This decision was politically motivated, since the species patently deserves protection yet granting it critical habitat would interfer with plans by Shell & other Earth raper corporations to develop the oil shale. This just goes to show that energy developments take precedence over the preservation of biodiversity in this sick social order we suffer under.

In the movie 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof', Burl Ives keeps talking about the strong smell of mendacity. In this case I smell the strong scent of desperation. Shale that has to have a freeze barrier, and has to be heated for 2-3 years to release the oil?! This versus simply pumping oil out of the ground, which in most cases is under enough pressure to initially pump itself out. Well it didn't take long for the desperation of getting oil out of oil sands to get to the desperation of trying to get oil out of oil shale. If this isn't proof we are past peak, then someone's got a scoop.

Why not simply crash a series of 100metre diameter metalic asteroids into the shale at -say- 15Km/s, the ensuing heat will release all the oil you require and the asteroid will provide for years of rich Platignum group pickings...

What do you mean you've never gone out beyond Moon Orbit? Pah, Humans!

Nick (Of the Vogon Destructor Fleet).

How about a bunker buster nuclear device to quickly heat the shale up super quickly to release the oil, then simply draw from the oil reservoirs that pool below ground zero? The radioactive level of the oil could probably be reduced with an additive and there you go - instant, abundant oil. After most of the easy to get oil has been recovered, then just clean up the mess with hoses of hot water like they did to clean up after the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Good one, Cslater8. It would be funny if the nuke hadn't been tried there already!

For those who don't know, in 1969 and 1973, the US Atomic Energy Commission in partnership with several oil and gas companies detonated nuclear bombs under western Colorado in an attempt to fracture gas and oil formations to produce more gas and oil. Project Rulison and Project Rio Blanco. There also was a planned Project Bronco for in situ shale retort:

Fascinating article here:

Crazy what we will do to feed our oil habit.

I was aware of the nuke they set off under the Carson Nat. Forest in northcentral NM, but not of the ones in Colorado. In NM the heat sealed rather than fractured the rock, diminishing extraction rather than enhancing it. And the gas they did extract was too contaminated to sell. Crazy indeed.. Thanks for the links.

Well moabite it would seem truth is greater than fiction. I thought a little bit of odd humor in the morning would start the day off right, but never actually thought there was any relevance to it. But alas, someone was already ahead of the oddball curve and tried it sometime ago. Thanks for the post and links.

Giuliani may soon be looking for a home near Rock Springs (ground zero) in an effort to bolster his 2012 bid.

That has already been thought of. Some work was done from data of the orignal Plowshare series of test in the Nevada test site.

Does anyone know what the energy input rate is on the heating aspect?

Is there scope to perform that via solar heating?

Solar heat is usually collected at the land surface. To heat the interior of the shale, one would need some method of transporting the heat into the interior. The usual and accepted method of transporting heat is to use it to warm some fluid then circulate the fluid into the body that needs warming. What fluid? It needs to stay liquid at 700°F (not vaporize, or boil). How can it be kept from picking up contaminants from the shale? Anyway Shell only wants solar for use in feel good corporate image ads, not for real engineering.

I may have suggested this before, but ...
A more realistic idea, more in keeping with the Shell mind set, is to use canisters containing radioactive nuclear waste as a heat source. Of course there is a danger that the canisters might split open and the radio-isotopes mix with the oil. That could be handled with a carefully orchestrated public relations campaign in which it is pointed out that THIS oil has higher energy content than old fashioned non-atomic oil.

There is a heat transfer liquid called Thermonal. It has a vapor point of well over 600 degrees, wich if used in a closed system under pressure could easly reach 800 degrees.

Here is one for you: After the oil is extracted much of the heat energy could be reclaimed and used in a low pressure steam turbine generator.

In the 1970's I worked on a solar collector system at Sandia Labs. We used "Therminol 66" to transfer the heat from our solar system to a heat exchanger that heated a fluid to run a turbine.

I haven't heard of that stuff for a while.

Shell's original filing on this process indicates that it would require the electricity from combustion of 5 million tons of coal to produce 5 million tons of oil (100,000 b/d).

To make this "Reverse Baked Alaska" approach produce net energy, they assumed gas-turbine efficiency of power generation.

Hmm, using that and some other factors down thread and I arrive at a rough back of the envelope number of a solar collector array 4km on a side to generate the same energy (give or take an order of magnitude).

Not great, but it might even be doable if they wanted to sell their green cred. Particularly since you could turn it into a power station after.

how would they use the water?

From the excellent link posted above:

"Colorado’s shale oil is chemically “kerogen” – not petroleum. It is not the equivalent of “heavy
oil” or “tar”, which are hydrocarbons. An additional hydrogen (H) atom is required to convert kerogen
into a hydrocarbon that can be refined into gasoline and other petroleum products. The missing
hydrogen is usually supplied from water (H2O) and requires a “pre-oil” plant plus large
quantities of water – which is rare in the oil shale regions of semiarid Western Colorado. In order
to release hydrogen from water, energy must be supplied. This two-step refining procedure makes
the production of gasoline from shale oil prohibitively expensive for practical purposes. The original
untreated kerogen shale oil is good only to burn as boiler fuel or as a base for some plastics and other petroleum by-products."

I will point out that the above was written in 1998 when oil was $10 a barrel, so the definition of "prohibitively expensive" has shifted. Since this stuff is at least ten years out, perhaps with conventional oil at $1000 a barrel or so this looks pretty good economically, but they still need the water. As it is said in the West, "Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over."

Rather than investing in expensive, unsustainable energy sources, like shale oil, companies should focus on developing renewable energy sources, which may not be cost effective right now, but will be once economies of scale can be utilized.

If you'd like to learn more, you should check out the Renewable Energy Finance Forum-Wall Street (, held June 18-19 in New York City. REFF provides an opportunity for financiers, investors, and renewable energy project developers to network and share ideas about opportunities for making renewable energy more mainstream, viable, and profitable. The more people who recognize the very real potential for renewables, the less we'll have to hear about companies investing in shale oil and other sources leading to an unsustainable future.

They are oil companies they extract oil and sell it. They are not renewable energy companies.
Also they are large companies one thing that is virtually impossible to do is to take a large
entrenched company and convert it to a dynamic start up. Better for them to give their profits back
to shareholders and let the individuals decide how to invest.

Correct. Studebaker was the only sizeable U.S. maker of horse drawn buggies and wagons to successfully shift to the production of automobiles. Although not ultimately a survivor, that company lasted fifty years as an auto manufactures and ultimately just gave up rather than going bankrupt.

The others ... did not fare as well.

Other than access to capital, there is no reason to believe that the oil majors would be more sucessful at alternative energy production than a well managed start up.

The Chinese have been producing a modest amount of shale oil in Fushun, Manchuria for 70 years, and that producton is now being greatly expanded.

This seems to be a repeating pattern. Oil alternative technology is being developed in Canada(tar sands), Brazil(bio-fuels) and China(oil shale).

It could be that all these countries are extremely stupid (and don't understand EROEI) or...

it could be that our energy interests( US oil and gas lobbyists) have a stranglehold on US energy policy.

For some reason, I don't think I've ever heard this alternate explanation given here.

your average ton of shale contains as much energy as a ton of baked spuds.... yeah

therefore if the losses in energy of heating a ton of rock to 700(whatever) degrees for TWO YEARS is greater than than than burning a ton of baked spuds the whole process is a loss...even if we assume 99.999999999999999999999999999999% of the heating energy is converted into recoverable hydrocarbons..

ok lets say all the heating energy (and freezing energy) comes from burning raw shale.... that way losses are subsumed in the boundary conditions of the process....

Question... how many tons of baked spuds do you need to heat 1 ton of shale for TWO YEARS!?

damm sight more than 1 is my guess...


I'm not a expert on kerogen, but I think the continued emphasis of two year heating is misplaced. Earth and rock are pretty good thermal insulators. Very little heat is lost from the region of shale that is being heated. The problem is the it takes a lot of btus or joules to get the whole s--- load up to temperature. They size the electric heaters to the size of power plant that they think they can get approved. It is pointless to buy bigger heaters than they can put into production. Then they figure out what time it will take for that size heaters to achieve the temperature they think they need. Then they see if they can sell that time delay on start of payback to their financial people. Its crazy, but not in the way your making out.

The freeze wall is, IMO, a bad political move for them. Surely someone on the review panels will suggest that approval be deferred until after some engineering tests are done that will prove the viability of this kind to containment -- like the engineering tests that have delayed Yucca mountain nuclear waste storage. And. like Yucca mountain the test results will be inconclusive.

In the end, the whole area will be redeveloped as a ski resort community just in time to fail when the winter snow stops falling. --- But wait! This ski resort will have giant left over refrigeration equipment, maybe powered by a nuclear power plant, that can be used to make artificial snow!

ok lets say perfect insulation....

so the specific heat capacity of rock is about 1kj/kg/k..


so to get 1 ton of rock to 700k or so is 700000Kj give or take...

how much energy in a ton of spuds?

approx 800 calories per kg or about 3.5kj/kg (is that right?)

so that gives us about 35000 kj per ton...20:1 ratio assuming zero energy loss in 2 years and 100% efficiency in raw shale burning to electricity for these heaters.

I must have made a mistake ... these 3:1 and 7:1 return ratios from shell look impossible?


Hi Boris

I think energy content of food is generally measured in big-C Calories, i.e. kilocalories.

(light-hearted) suggestion for an energy source: Shell could ... build a dam on the Colorado!

I bet no-one's thought of that before! ;-)

ok so thats X 1000

35000000KJ per ton

ok thats a 50:1 ratio in favour of the deal

the insulation factor is mighty important then...


Shell seems to be a hot candidate for the (still to be created) Energy Inefficiency Award:
They want to heat the rock with electrical energy, which due to the inefficiency of thermal power stations needs about three times as much primary energy than if heated by direct oil or gas combustion. As a result Shell ends up with an efficiency very close to "energy out = energy in".
In a recent posting Nate Hagens had more details, e.g.:
"Shell reports that in their ICP in situ process they consume 1 Btu for every 3 Btu’s of energy produced, corresponding to an EROI of 3:1 (Ibid). However, if the energy input is electricity and the output oil this would imply a quality-corrected EROI of close to unity."

Maybe this "huge oil shale resources" trick is a good way to distract from the bleak supply outlook, but it won't deliver neither plenty nor cheap energy.

Or if Shell really thinks this "technology" will prove economical then be prepared for oil prices of 300 USD or whatever. But in this case all renewables sources will be way cheaper than shoil.

what if the electricity in is produced from raw shale burning..

ie the EROEI boundary was LARGELY contained within the resource. that way losses do not impact other resources... so much?

my hunch is the whole thing is absurd even with this given assumption...

if you freeze dam the whole thing you essentially making a huge heat gradient at the edges of this "field" sucking out your inputs... so the stored energy/insulation idea strikes me as dubious...


Kerogen shale has been used as a fuel directly, burned like wood or coal. It's a terrible fuel, by the sound of it.

It is not at all clear to me why the in situ oil shale process has to be such a huge consumer of water.

It's certainly not the perimeter freeze wall that's the culprit. And in the heating of the target shale zone, I could see significant water use for steam generation and cooling water for power plants, etc., but when you get right down to it, the subsurface steam could be condensed, and the cooling water doesn't have to be once-through. In many industries where water is used as a transport medium a high degree of water recycle can be implemented.

So, I would be appreciative if someone knowledgeable on the subject would enlighten me on the net water consumption associated with the in situ oil shale process and whether there might be a high potential for water recycle.

As far as heat goes, I feel less puzzled about that. While heating something for several years might seem, a priori, like a net energy loser, one has to realize that we are talking about a huge volume and hence a very tiny surface-to-volume ratio. Hence, heat transfer through such a huge volume is quite slow and the rate at which heat has to be injected may not be all that prohibitive.

Another way of looking at it is to calculate the amount of heat needed to raise a ton of oil shale rock to the desired temperature and to then allow for loses across the boundary of the total volume of the target shale zone. The amount of heat required in relation to the energy content of the 'oil' recovered might not be as large as it would at first appear given the long heating time.

Anyway, I still don't see why this has to be such a 'wet' process in terms of net water consumption.

As I read RR's post a good part of the water is for upgrading the kerogen sweated out of the shale to a still fairly nasty grade of crude oil. This might not be the barrier it is described as being if the kerogen is in a form that it can be transported via rail.

In addition, when push comes to shove, raising alfalfa along the lower Colorado, or watering cotton in central Arizona would probably lose out to shale oil production, if [big "if"] the extraction process was otherwise viable.

Actually, shale oil has excellent refining characteristic
it is light-medium 38 degrees API(WTI, Brent are similar=38,39 API) without sulfur. It also is rich in nitrogen which could be extracted for fertilizer.

Compare that with the high sulfur superheavy API 6? bitumen of the tar sands which must be hydrogenated into syncrude API 36 to be moved by pipeline.

Some of the water of the Colorado go for the Imperial Valley
agriculture but much more is wasted on residential subdivisions and golf courses in Arizona or worse Las Vegas.

Anyway, I still don't see why this has to be such a 'wet' process in terms of net water consumption.

maybe they just think the water rights are going to be very valuable and want them anyway. isn't water the new oil?

Has anybody actually looked at the economic cost longer term to see if it will be profitable? It seems alot of people look at alternative fossil fuel economics with current cost. I mean in reality rhis ridiculous in situ process is being subsidized by the prevalence of cheap easy to extract conventional oil. With the rising cost of conventional oil it would seem that it would be less and less profitable to produce unconventional oil. O well, That just means more abandoned projects in the Colorade oil shale.

Possibly, some folks are making assumptions about sustainable energy development also known as return on investment or ROI. All Shell has to do is get the US government to subsidize a nuclear power plant or two and BINGO we have ROI. When something get's subsidized it is free and therefore, the ROI becomes sustainable energy from oil shale.

Let me balance the energy equation:

ROI = Esustainable = mc2

where m = massive government involvement and c = speed of corruption

So remember, when you are contemplating peak oil and perseverating about Olduvai scenarios, there's always the politicians who are not bound by the laws of thermodynamics or even common sense.

Maybe Shell figures even if they end up giving up on shale they'll be able to sell the water in 10 to 15 years time for a big profit.

There may be technological developments to extract oil from kerogen shale that are far more energy and cost effective than the in-situ thermal process that Shell is experimenting with. A company and technology I have recently discovered is Global Resource Corporation and their use of high frequency microwaves to decompose heavier hydrocarbons into natural gas and other volatile gases. Their research work is certainly worth a look for anyone interested in possible technical solutions to extracting methane and lighter hydrocarbons from shale, tar sands, coal, tires, etc. Here is their web site:

It appears the company is just one step beyond research and development and is just now developing relatively small microwave units to decompose plastics debris and rubber tires, but they have their vision set on extract distillates from drill cuttings, oil shale and tar sands.

Also on Global Resources site is a DOE report on 27 companies that are involved in petroleum extract from oil shale research, here is this .pdf: It is very informative both about the scale of these resources as well as the many different methods being studied on how to extract useful energy from oil shale. I am guessing that all but the most experienced petroleum industry insiders would learn something from this report.

Concerning water, it is by far the more important resource, with the availability of fresh water the determining factor in population and economic expansion and our possible die-offs. It has been a fear of mine that in the US, we are likely to end up poisoning the Greater Colorado and Missouri watershed in the efforts to extract coalbed methane and petroleum for oil shale. This may be happening before people in general realize the dangers.

OT: I've been looking everywhere - Does anyone know where a small business can purchase the barrels?

Looks like PEAK WATER for that part of the USA.

unless I am mistaken, fresh water is not required for the process. The earth is saturated with brine for thousands of feet. The key for economic viability is finding a high porosity/permeability interval that is within an economic distance from the surface.