Tech Talk: Producing oil shale by burning it in place

This is part of the continuing series that I have been writing about oil shale. And, while I just digressed in talking about using nuclear devices to break the rock and heat it, the key problems that those posts highlighted remain. The first was that the oil is not really oil and won’t flow to the well, and the second is that there are no easy paths for the oil to flow though, even if it could. And this creates a problem when it comes to getting the kerogen (or oil for simplicity) separated from the rock around it. As I said in the first post on this topic, the oil can be separated in a retort, after being mined. The retorting can be self-energized and, by heating the oil it can be transformed into a form of bitumen that can then be further refined into a commercial grade. And if you think it is easy, there is this quote I found at Econbrowser, that might give you some perspective. He quotes Bubba, of Belly of the Beast:

If you heat this shale to 700 degrees F you will turn this organic carbon (kerogen) into the nastiest, stinkiest, gooiest, pile of oil-like crap that you can imagine. Then if you send it through the gnarliest oil refinery on the planet you can make this s*** into transportation fuel. In the mean time you have created all kinds of nasty byproducts, have polluted the air and groundwater of wherever you have extracted it.

Mining shale and then processing out the oil is, therefore, fairly expensive, both in terms of energy, and hard dollars. At the same time, once the oil is extracted, the spent shale has to be disposed of. That costs more money. Considering all these potential expenses and potential problems, it is therefore not surprising, from the beginning, that the idea of trying to create the initial retort in the rock, and making that transition to oil in-place looked as though it might be a winner.

There has been considerable technical success in recent times in getting natural gas from the tight shale around the country, but natural gas is, comparatively, easy to extract if some additional cracks are artificially driven through the rock to create the needed permeability.

Unfortunately that only potentially treats one of the problems with the oil shale. The other is that the oil will not move, even if the cracks are there, unless it is heated to the point that it will either vaporize, or transform into a flowable hydrocarbon. And this takes a lot of heat. Thus the attraction of having a nuclear device to create a cavity, radically fracture the rock around the cavity, and generate enough heat to start an underground fire, that could be sustained, and controlled, by adding additional air, and from which the oil could be released.

OK, so accepting that we can't use nukes, can we do this another way? Because of space and time I’m going to talk of the more conventional retorting today, based on the idea of doing most of the processing of the oil in place. Why do we need to do that? Well, it gets very expensive to mine and move that rock from the deeper deposits, and though it has been and is being done for metal ores, their costs are still much higher than that of oil.

If we can process the rock in place, so that the oil is heated sufficiently, then we save the transportation costs. So what will we need? For the more conventional approach we still need some sort of cavity in which to start the fire, and to allow it to spread. Then there has to be air fed to the fire to keep it going (and this will require that boreholes be drilled down into the area to sustain the air flow). And then there has to be some way of getting the mobilized oil out of the ground, so that it all doesn't end up being burned down there.

It is an idea that has been suggested for a number of different energy sources. And it is why I included a post on in-situ combustion processes at the beginning of this series. The first dealt with burning coal in place, and then I wrote about the THAI process that is being investigated in Canada for producing the heavy oil in the sands above Fort McMurray.

It might be helpful to insert a slight digression here. In a normal oil refinery, the heavy oils, or residuum, that come out of the bottom of the initial fractionating column have almost no light hydrocarbons left in them, and so are sent to a Coker, where at a temperature of around 1200 degrees, the final hydrocarbons are driven off, and cracked into lighter fractions, leaving the carbon residue known as coke (or petroleum coke to distinguish it from that made from coal). From my youth I can tell you that coke is a much harder fuel to start burning than conventional coal, since it no longer has any volatiles left in it. Thus, for example, even after the intensity of the fires in the Kuwaiti oil field, coke was deposited around the burning wells and required barrels of C-4 to break it up, so that the fire fighters could reach the top of the well, put out the fire, and replace the fixtures. The reason that I mention this is that Petrobank are burning this coke to provide the heat for the reactions. And from the modifications from the first test to the second have found that the process needs a lot of air to be supplied to the burning zone to sustain the fire - over the full face of the burn. I'll come back to that in a bit.

The situation with the oil shale is a little more complex than for oil sand, since the structure of the rock is tighter than the sands in Alberta, and the oil has to be heated to a significantly higher temperature before it will transition and move. The first underground experiments were carried out by Sinclair, in 1953 and 1954. (So we are back to paper references -see Ref 1 at the end). In those days, drilling technology wasn't as advanced and so, for the first experiments, they drilled a hole near the outcrop of the shale, and then created a crack from the well to the outcrop by pressurizing air in the well until the rock fractures (a simple variant on hydrofracing a well). By adding sand, the crack can be propped open so that air can get into it. It took a couple of tries to get it working, but they were able to start fires in the oil shale at the well, and then by continuously pumping down air, carry the fire along the crack. The heat of the fire changed the kerogen to oil, in the same way as with the retort, and oil was seen coming out of the crack at the outcrop. The rock around the well was, however, fairly fractured from being near the outcrop, so that air passage to encourage the flame to progress, was possible. It is worth quoting some of the conclusions to that work:

Under field conditions - particularly if the operation requires high pressures - volumetric conformance and thermal efficiency can differ significantly from model predictions. The burning zone probably will expand to more closely follow the retorting isotherm and shorten heat transfer distances. In addition, convection may become significant. To illustrate, shale retorted under simulated overburden pressures in the laboratory does not spall or crack as it does at low pressure. Instead, a consolidated rock having high porosity and low permeability remains after pyrolysis of the kerogen. Bulk volume is greater than in the un-retorted state. It is possible that some of the injected air will move through this permeable matrix of spent shale to more fully utilize the fuel content of the spent shale and accelerate heat transfer to raw shale over the rates computed from the mathematical model.

Coring of the oil shale as a precursor to the aborted nuclear shot at Rio Blanco (Ref. 2) showed that at depth the shale appeared to have considerable jointing, which would be a real help in any in-situ retorting method, as Socony anticipated (Ref. 3). When looked at under a microscope, the retorted shale also had a number of voids, left by the volatized kerogen, that provided some permeability to the shale (Ref. 4).

It is the presence or absence of cracks, voids and other passages that the controls the success of conventional in-situ retorting of oil shale. Cyclic hydro-fracing or air fracing of the shale can induce a series of fractures around a well bore at depth, but these are going to be relatively narrow. There is not the mobility within the structure that one gets from the oil sands. Further the environment has to be heated to a much higher temperature to induce transition first to the bitumen and then to the crude. In the tight rock that exists under pressure at depth, the only path that air has to the fire is from boreholes drilled to that depth. (In contrast with close-to-surface conditions where ground fracturing will open cracks to the surface.) With the cracks being relatively narrow the air that must be supplied to the fire must be at a relatively high pressure, and in considerable volumes.

Without an underground cavity, into which some of the rock can displace, or a means for removing some of the rock to allow multiple fractures of the shale, and fracture opening to allow air access, starting and sustaining a large underground fire will be a significant undertaking.

Unfortunately also "Lean shale tends to be brittle, fracturing under stress, while rich shale tends to be tough and resilient, resisting fracture by bending, and tending to yield plastically under stress." (Ref. 5) This is going to make it harder to grow the cracks where we need them to be.

The other problem with in-situ retorting is controlling the flame front to go where you want it. It is hard to control where the fractures go underground, and the path that the air takes, to make sure that all the shale is retorted, so much more air has to be pumped underground than might be needed otherwise. And this is where it gets frustrating because, though it may only take 260 Btu to raise a lb of shale to 900 degF, (Ref. 6) and that can come from the carbon content of the shale (the coke above), getting enough air there and having somewhere for the released oil and gas to go can take a lot more energy.

For example if two wells are drilled, say 500 ft apart, and a crack run between them, then the air to the burning front, and the flow from it, is gong to be limited by the width of the crack. These processes are relatively slow. A model of the process (Ref. 7) has shown that it can take 10 years for the front to move from one well to the next. During that time air has to be continuous injected, and the volume of air required, for a barrel of oil recovered can be calculated.

Depending on the temperature at which the air was injected (since it shouldn't cool the fire) it can take between 24,000 scf (standard cubic feet) and 86,000 scf/bbl. To get that air into the fire effectively it would have to be pumped into the well at 2,500 psi. (A conventional air compressor runs at around 120 psi). To generate a flow of 50,000 barrels a day was found to require an air compressor system run at 272,000 horsepower. To cut a longer story short, this turns out not be economic, at 1968 costs.

Hmm! Well, I am not quite finished, but perhaps this explains in part why Shell are using heaters, rather than fire. I will have a short discussion of that, next time.


Ref. 1 Grant B.F. "Retorting Oil Shale Underground - Problems and Possibilities", 1st Oil Shale Symposium, CSM, 1964.

Ref. 2 Stanfield K.E. "Progress Report on Bureau of Mines - Atomic Energy Commission Corehole, Rio Blanco Country, Colorado", 3rd Oil Shale Symposium, CSM, 1966. 

Ref. 3 Sandberg C.R., "Method for recovery of hydrocarbons by in situ heating of oil shale", US Patent 3,205,942, 1965.

Ref. 4 Hill G.R. and Dougan P. "The characteristics of a low temperature in-situ shale oil", 4th Oil Shale Symposium, CSM, 1967.

Ref. 5 Budd C.H. McLamore T.T., and Gray K.E. "Microscopic examination of mechanically deformed oil shale," 42nd Petr. Engrs Fall Mtg, SPE 1826, 1967.

Ref. 6 Carpenter H.C. and Sohns H.W. "Application of above ground retorting cariable to in situ oil shale processing", 5th Oil Shale Symposium , CSM 1968.

Ref. 7 Barnes A.L. and Ellington R.T. "A Look at in situ oil shale retorting methods based on limited heat transfer contact surfaces", 5th Oil Shale Symposium, CSM, 1968.

Heading Out, thanks for your enlighting posting.

Depending on the temperature at which the air was injected (since it shouldn't cool the fire) it can take between 24,000 scf (standard cubic feet) and 86,000 scf/bbl. To get that air into the fire effectively it would have to be pumped into the well at 2,500 psi. (A conventional air compressor runs at around 120 psi). To generate a flow of 50,000 barrels a day was found to require an air compressor system run at 272,000 horsepower. To cut a longer story short, this turns out not be economic, at 1968 costs.

Can you tell us something about the energy balance (EROEI) of the processes, e.g. how many barrels of "oil" in place are burned in order to recover one barrel of oil?

As far as I remember the EROEI issue was a major obstacle for the electrical heater approach used by Shell (which you want to explain next): The overall energy needed to recover the oil was about the same as the recovered oil's energy content.
So if all processes including the electricity power plant was run by oil the resulting oil recovery was around zero.
And if the electricity power plant was run by coal or nuclear energy this would rather mean a conversion of coal or nuclear energy to hydrocarbons instead of a "production" of oil.
I understand that due to the long lead and adaption times (e.g. in aviation) hydrocarbons will be needed for a long time even when conventional oil will be increasingly unavailable due to peak oil. So there will be some demand for energy conversion into hydrocarbons, e.g. from oil shale or from coal. But as these won't provide cheap oil either new solutions may become economically interesting, which re-cycle CO2 as a hydrocarbon resource. As the conventional re-cycling method via biomass (mainly first or second biofuels, biogas, biochar...) have their limits, e.g. due to their large place requirement there is now a new approach that converts CO2 from renewable power plants, which are much more space efficient.
More details:

You comment on what seems like poor EROEI of oil shale. If some of the energy used in the process comes comes from burning carbon in the oil shale itself, I would think it would not be counted in the EROEI calculation.

Regardless of whether the energy used in the process comes from the oil shale or something outside, the combustion process needed for heating will lead to CO2 production. I would think the CO2 emitted in the process of mining and upgrading oil shale would be a lot worse than that for producing oil from the oil sands in Canada, since it has to be heated to a higher temperature.

If I recall my conversion factor correctly we are looking at about 300,000 btu per barrel or about 3 out of the 42 gallons in a bbl a ratio of 1:14 and a net of 13 gallons of oil for each gallon burned.

the conversion is 6 million btu/barrel, 5.8 million in this chart, and dependent on the api gravity of the oil:

A quick 3x5 card calculation reveals that using 272,000 horsepower to create a flow of 50,000 bbl/day of oil would require about 20 - 25% of the oil to create the horsepower. Assumptions: Specific fuel consumption for the compressor prime mover = 0.4 lbs fuel per horsepower - hour; and 285 pounds of fuel obtained from each barrel of oil.

Has anyone heard of a private company named Red Leaf Resources? Company has an innovative oil shale extraction technology / process.

gun - A quick searched showed: In the Red-Leaf Resources EcoShale In-Capsule Process, a hot gas is generated by burning natural gas or pyrolysis gas. It is then circulated through oil shale rubble using a set of parallel pipes. The heat is transferred to the shale through the pipe walls rather than being injected directly into the rubble, thereby avoiding dilution of the product gas with the heating gas. The pile of oil shale rubble is enclosed by a low-cost earthen impoundment structure designed to prevent environmental contamination and to provide easy reclamation. Heat from the spent shale is recovered, enhancing the process's energy efficiency, by passing cool gas through pipes and then using it to preheat adjacent capsules.

Thus it's not an in situ process and requires the OS to be mined. Might be an efficiency improvement but it doesn't seem to address the major problems.

The fact that electricity is a very expensive form of energy to use for heating is and obvious difficulty. There is also a less obvious difficulty: Heat generate electrically flows from the heater to the kerogen by thermal conduction, not forced convection of hot gaseous combustion products. Thermal conduction is very slow. Not the sort of thing on which I would want to base the future of civilization as we know it.

(Note: While typing this post I see that the input interface marks 'kerogen' as a misspelling. This might be OK in the context of a blog about finance, but here???)

AFAIK the "input interface" doing the spell check is really an edit box in your browser. You can probably right-click or something and add 'kerogen' to the browser's dictionary.

"With the cracks being relatively narrow the air that must be supplied to the fire must be at a relatively high pressure, and in considerable volumes......
To get that air into the fire effectively it would have to be pumped into the well at 2,500 psi. (A conventional air compressor runs at around 120 psi)."

Besides requiring a huge amount of energy (natural gas or diesel fuel) to provide this air and thus lowering the EROEI, this combustion at high pressure will create huge amount of NOX (oxides of nitrogen that make smog and are strictly regulated by the EPA) and CO2 emissions. The NOX can be eliminated by incinerating with natural gas (lowers EROEI even more), but the CO2 emissions will just make this oil production a big contributor to AGW.

Interesting post Heading Out. I am glad you make note of all the pitfalls of this possible oil source.

I don’t think the people brain storming this mean an air compressor like you would see at your local gas station. 2500 psi gas injection compressors are not unheard of. Granted the shell would be thick but I think obtainable. Flows might be a problem. Since this process needs heat, why not take the exhaust off of the gas turbine, mix it with some air and inject into the well. Of course the compressor is not going to be very efficient.

While reading the above, I realized that a compressor of traditional design to achieve the desired pressure would have multistages and would have inter-coolers between the stages. To achieve the desired high temperatures might only require eliminating the inter-coolers.

It might also require finding lubricants for the late stage compressors that work at very high temperature. One might have to make the compressor out of some high melt point material like tungsten.

I think there are other problems in addition to finding energy source to power the compressors.

I would wonder about the feasibility of even considering the injection of air into the earth at 2500 PSI, due in large part to the impact on USDW's, Usable Safe Drinking Water zones above the shale into which this would be intended to be injected. I don't know the depths at which such injection might be considered, but at about 4600', I was told that EPA would not permit the injection of CO2 (for a proposed CO2 flood) at a proposed pressure of 3,500 psi. From what I have heard, the top of the oil shale sections are well above that depth.

USDW regulations are typically administered by the various states with oil and gas production, and are most typically a concern with the injection of salt water. Problem is though, if you break through the overburden with anything, the fresh water could well be contaminated with other materials from zones above the air injection point.

The title here, "Producing oil shale by burning it in place" is a bit strange because the only way to produce shale oil is by burning it(pyrolysis). Burning it turns kerogen into oil shale and gas and of course CO2.
US policy requires that unconventional oil operations emit no more CO2 than conventional oil production.

There are two ways of producing shale oil--one is to grind it to powder and burn it, the other is to heat it in place(in-situ). By grinding it you can recover +90% of the oil/gas in the rock, in-situ methods are 80% efficient.
The most efficient grinding configurations are 'hot recycled solids' and various retorts.
The oil shale is preheated heated by oil shale ash, causing the gasification of shale oil vapors and combustible gas. The vapors are cooled to remove the shale oil and the combustible gas fires burners that heat the ash to combust the remaining carbon and that ash is continuously mixed with incoming oil shale.

In-situ processes are divided into true insitu and modified insitu where the shale stratum is altered by reducing it to rubble prior to heating.
The modified insitu method was used at Occidental Oil Shale in 1979. Afterwards the groundwater was found to be contaminated for 2 years after the end of the project.
Also the amount of CO2 produced by modified insitu(.5 tons of CO2 per barrel) was 3 times larger the emissions from tar sands operations which are 5 times higher than conventional oil production due to the carbonate in the rock. It is possible to sequester CO2 back into the formation.
With the Shell insitu conversion process ICP the CO2 produced is about the same as with conventional oil production.

This site shows a modified insitu oil shale operation
proposed by COP.

Insitu oil shale had a break-even price of $35 per barrel in 2003 and mined oil shale a price of $54 per barrel. Shell's ICP is economic at $40 per barrel oil.

Liquifying coal looks a lot more economic than messing with oil shale, and probably less damaging to the environment.

CTL is very complicated compared to just heating up Colorado oil shale.

A ton of coal produces about 2 barrels of CTL. The US has 250 billion tons of coal. A ton of lignite coal has
the same amount of energy as 3 barrels of liquid fuels.

Colorado has about 1500 billion tons of oil shale produces 1/2 barrel(1/3-2/3 of a barrel) per ton.

In other words, there is more potential oil in Colorado oil shale than could have been produced by liquifying all US coal. One advantage of Colorado's oil shale is that the deposit is quite concentrated and the mines, once in production, would not become depleted for at least a century at present rates of US consumption.

A ton of oil shale has the same amount of energy as 0.7 barrels of liquid fuel.

The Alberta Taciuk Process (which looks like a big cement kiln) gets most of its input energy directly from the mined oil shale.

Brandt performed full life cycle assessments (LCA) for high and low energy cases. Among his findings were:

Producing 1 MJ of reformulated gasoline from shale via the ATP requires the consumption of 0.56 to 0.87 MJ upstream. For comparison, upstream consumption for reformulated gasoline produced from conventional oil is ~0.2-0.25 MJ/MJ fuel.

Much of the energy input comes from the fuel feedstock itself. Nearly all of the energy consumed by the retort is provided by the shale itself and much of the refinery energy input comes from the shale oil refinery feedstock.

Full-fuel-cycle GHG emissions are estimated to be 129 g CO2 equiv/MJ in the low case and 153 g CO2equiv/MJ in the high case. Emissions from carbonate decomposition are important in both cases. These are ~1.5-1.75 times those of gasoline from conventional crude oil on a full-fuel-cycle basis.

The main problem is the very high amounts of total CO2 produced by the ATP, about 750 kg/barrel which is much more than 450 kg/barrel for conventional petroleum but much less than CTL which produces 1300 kg of CO2 /barrel.
It is estimated that to get all gasoline from oil shale by the ATP would cause the emission of 10 times all the CO2 emission of the state of Colorado. Additional energy would be required to capture and sequester the CO2 (for oil field EOR?).

The biggest environmental problem with oil shale is not water(1-3 barrels of water per barrel of shale oil) but CO2 emissions.

Very much lower CO2 emissions would be released by Shell's ICP process relying on electricity from natural gas or renewables.

You guys have never been to Parachute have you.

And the reason I say that is because it's obvious you haven't. And I should add that by "Parachute" What I really really mean is "up on the mesas".

Because, I think that's where we're "talking" about here. Parachute, Colorado, organic marlstone, Green River Fm. Mahogany unit? Correcto?

Because NOTHING you propose to do to get any meaningful fuel or e-, will work out here with regards to the marlstones here. Maybe we can make some more plastiques from the shit? Shell et al may have tried but perhaps the most spectacular failures are to come?

Every one of those references up there are from before 1970. From my alma mater as it were. I feel baited.

The first question "we" should ask whenever someone brings up this scam, is what they're going to use the upgraded petroleum for. Because right now it seems the only use for the stuff (marlestone) is to bilk more unsuspecting fools out of money and time that could be better used elsewhere. Basically "mental masturbation".

If you propose to use the stuff as liquid fuel, you and a mess of investors will go broke. And waste the place. if you propose to burn the stuff to generate e-, your still smoking crack. Where in the world would the power be used? Denver, SLC, lakewood, wheatridge, where? Not NJ. Denver and SLC are quite a hump, large transmission losses along the way. Glenwood canyon, large equipment fuel. End of a long, hard supply line.

If you propose that we mine the stuff to make plastics and other shit, then the maybe the price of the product can reflect the cost of acquiring and processing the raw material - expensive.

This article is just further illustration as to why kerogen,like asbestos,is better left in the ground.
The fact that some enterprises are serious about these endeavours,whether insitu recovery or mechanical mining and retorting,is indicative of the prevailing insanity of our time.

I told you all the other day, the ENTIRE Green River Formation IS the watershed for the Colorado River. Get out a map and take a look. Places like Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles are absolutely dependent upon the health of this watershed for their water. It also waters a fair bit of California's agriculture. Take my word for it, this one is a no go...., a fact, not a conjecture.

And the point about Parachute, Colorado; it's not exactly easy to get around out that way. The terrain is up, then down, then up again.

On another note, efforts to relocate the Atlas Mineral's uranium tailings is moving right ahead. A million tons of radioactive tailings were moved over to Crescent Junction this past year. Just 19 million tons to go. The tailings pile sits along the banks of the Colorado River just out of Westwater Canyon. There is some fear that a river flood would relocate the tailings to Lake Powell and then Lake Mead, with the final destination being out the water taps and spigots of folks in Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles.

So, I would say, collectively, we need to reach back, grab our ears firmly, and all together pull our heads out of our butts. Best from the Fremont

Fremont, all our energy options need to be discussed freely. It is not as simple as "not in my back yard". Fossil fuels are currently needed for food production and national security, so I suppose work will be done on alternate fossil fuel sources until such time as we have an alternate energy infrastructure in place. If we speak clearly and freely, I think in the end it can only help. And the more time you will have to form valid objections.

In case that isn't clear, I mean additional valid objections.


Thank you for the clarity.

I'll be as clear as I can be. I speak for no one but myself and my thoughts come from my own experience in this part of the country over the past 65 years or so. I'm not an engineer, I know nothing of science; I never passed Algebra in High School. I've always been a Cowboy and I get along well with Mules. When I call myself a Cowboy, I'm not talking about the pretty fellers who dance good and like to drive their pick em up truck and drink beer. No, a Cowboy makes his living horseback looking after cattle. As a consequence we develop extreme common sense or we get killed somewhere along the way. I've spent lots of my time horseback, in the outback, just me, my horse and my dog. If I get hurt out there, I'm on my own and I'll not be found until the lions and coyotes have had what they'd like. This life causes independent thought. I've lots of time to consider, and consider I do. I also have a highly tuned BS meter.

Tourists come through here. Lots of Europeans, Asians, Englanders, and some Americans. I used to have a job wrangling for a backcountry outfitter. We'd take tourists out on 5 to 7 day trips into the desert, or up on the mountain. When we'd go to the desert we'd track the wild horses, on the mountain, everybody just wanted to take photographs. I met a lot of nice folks from all kinds of places and from all kinds of careers and stations. What I saw with them was a severe disconnect with the natural world, and none of them had ever done any work with their hands. "Hands as fine as a Dealers in Reno" always came to mind. Fine fingers, no knots or bumps, with fingernails in tact and even polished. The distance between my world and theirs is great. I was always treated as an oddity, an anachronism, and they liked to have their picture taken standing next to me to show their friends back home, specially if I tucked my pants into my boots and stood so my spurs were visible. So I was patronized by folks who couldn't find their butt if it was a hot rock....I get over it.

I know what I know, you know what you know.

What I'm getting to is this; I have no idea at all if windmills will work off of the Atlantic Coast. If they will, they will. I don't live there, I have no opinion and can and will be swayed by the evidence. I do have a very strong opinion about the feasibility of oil shale development in my corner of the west. My opinion comes from years spent on the Yampa, the Green, and the Colorado Rivers and their various drainages. I know what Oil Shale looks like, I know how hard it is, and I've seen it cropping out in the canyons under thousands of feet of dirt and rock. I know how water works in this country, I know that it's scarce, so scarce, I can smell it when it's around. I've had to dig in the bends in the washes hoping my hole would fill up over night so my horse, and me and my dog would have a good drink in the morning. I know how water travels in the ground, how it seeps through the sand and how it finds a way to drip down a cliff face, a drop at a time.

I don't have a stake in this. I may be around in ten years, maybe even fifteen or twenty. I got fouled in my stirrup after my horse fell on me last year and drug 100 yards before I was able to kick free, so I shouldn't be around this year. In the next universe over, I died last year. I don't care what the final upshot is of all of this. I just don't think oil shale is doable. I know this too...we come, we go. I don't care if human beings make it and conquer the stars. I have no stake in it. But, I'll always be happy to tell you what I know. Best from the Fremont

Well said, Fremont.


I have been folowing your posts and comments ever since you came to TOD and started posting.

Yours is a very small voice crying out and speaking the basic truths here.

I admire your style and admonish you to please continue to do so.
The planet needs people like you. Your words are not lost in the maelstrom for me at least here on TOD.

My faith feels that at least there some who realize and can state what the hell is going on here. Here being this blue marble that perhaps God made only one of and we are setting about totally destroying it.

Once long ago back right after the 1973 gas crisis I loaded a pickup with a slide in camper and took me and my family out along the routes to Colorado and points west. I remember that trip fondly and the scenery was surreal.
I always like my hero Robert Pirsig, wanted to return and try in on my motorcycle. Now it appears I will perhaps not be able to but the memories remain. A beautiful country and sights I will always cherish.

Best from Kain Tuck Ee.


oil shale "Roan Plateau " - Google Images Search

oil shale "Book Cliffs" - Google Images Search

Looks like an awfully dry place. Where I grew up it was 10-15" rain per year, and the fauna was positively verdant compared to these kind of landscapes - which is not to say they aren't beautiful and complex.

If we're going to insist on personal cars nukes+renewables=EVs, or mass transit.

The development of the oil-shale industry is only a question of time. It calls for a tremendous outlay of capital. To obtain
an oil-shale production equal to our present oil production
would require an investment of at least $3,000,000,000, figuring
a $2,000,000 investment for each 1000 bbl. of oil produced daily.
Our present daily oil production (1922) is a little more than
1,500,000 bbl.

From "Oil Field Practice," pub. 1922.

Thanks for posting the photographs. They're all of my neighborhood. The old barn in the Book Cliff photos is just down the road from my little place. It's prettier in person, and the Apples we can grow! Delicious. Best from the Fremont

Never been out there but North Central Oregon where I'm from has many similar landscapes, just basalts instead of shales/granites/etc. It's "Eastern" Oregon by name, too, in contradistinction to all those money grubbin' sons a you-know-whats in the big cities in the Willamette Valley, where I've lived forever - longer than in the East, actually, but I still enjoy seeing all the basalt, juniper and bunchgrass when I'm back.

Can't imagine trying to redirect 1 mb/d of water out there, even though the north boundary of my home county is the Columbia. The farmers out there are setting world's records for fastest dropping water tables, guys used to call my Dad up at 4AM to come out and pull pipe out of their wells. Head into the central parts of the state, forget it. Really forget it if the Columbia was supplying water to CA - which has been proposed, and believe me, will never happen.

This jogs my memory - I've been to Book Cliffs. It reminds me of another place called Murder Ridge, I'm not sure if it's in the same area. My father tried to take a shortcut & wound up lost, short of fuel & on top of the ridge - it was a long ways down.

It's not dry in the winter or spring, and that is a problem, too. There could be ten feet of snow up there in the winter and bottomless sticky mud in the spring. when it rains the most roads turn into deep mud holes that will strand you. I will say that watching the drillers up there has been entertaining.

Not coming out for mining that junk here but the objections to developing the region because of difficult terrain and climate (except for water availability of course) just don't add up to a hill of beans. Take a trip up the haul road to Deadhorse. They merely had to cross the Yukon river, a couple mountain ranges (albeit low ones) and put roadbed on 'bottomless' permafrost. The road was punched through the 360 miles north of the Yukon river in just five months using 32 million cubic yards of gravel. At the end of that road you have the north slope oil fields, pad after gravel pad linked by many, many miles of gravel roads all sitting atop permafrost ground and all built in a region where winter is fierce seven months a year and it is pretty much dark a couple of them. Canada has developed resources in equally inhospitable places. If the resource is worth getting-and in no way am I implying that this kerogen is at present-we sure as hell have the know how to build the infrastructure to get it out.

As for water, a good techno nightmare has us pipelining,or aquaducting the Great Lakes or any number of northern rivers (I know they are in Canada but this is talking a still powerful US desperate for oil) to wherever its needed. It just takes available capital-could be an issue-and a resource the economies' can afford but is of high enough value (high enough to trump any environmental concerns) to develop. Before you jump on me, I've been paying attention to this series--oil shale at present doesn't meet any of those criteria.

Deepending on how things break, there could be fewer and fewer places for people to carry on as Fremont has or there could be a whole lot of places where people wish they knew as much as he has already forgot.

Are you familiar with the Great Lakes Compact? Attempting to utilize Lake Michigan for this will likely never happen, either.

No one is suggesting aridity would be a major factor here; remoteness, to an extent. But 10% of world production comes from KSA's Eastern Provinces, so obviously this isn't a major factor long term; but the water intensiveness of processing oil shale is, even with less thirsty methods.

I think I covered that all with the term "techno nightmare" and the phrase "this is talking a still powerful US desperate for oil." Infer a worst case scenario with one major condition, 'our' monster (actual master slave relationship likely the reverse) not only retaining but ever increasing its resource diversion/extraction/conversion capabilities. In that scene compacts, borders or whatever can be devoured.

It just takes available capital-could be an issue-and a resource the economies' can afford but is of high enough value (high enough to trump any environmental concerns) to develop.

I don't see big time oil shale development happening either, too many other paths. Nonetheless if all the stars misalign just wrong it...


Thank you for your comments. I can somewhat relate to your posts. I grew up on a farm perilously close to cowboy country. Actually, it was retired horse thief country. Some horse thieves had decided to put away their guns and retire to the hills where nobody could find them, and I went to school with their sons and/or daughters. The daughters could be a lot of fun, if you were careful, but the sons were really hazardous. They used to beat up passing motorcycle gangs just for fun.

The point of departure in our careers came when I decided that the best path involved getting as much science and mathematics as I could. Hanging out with a bunch of ex-horse thieves didn't seem to have a lot of future. A lot of them seemed to get killed, particularly where pickup trucks and alcohol were involved, although guns did in a few as well.

Since then, I've done a lot of travelling. Among numerous other things I've walked to the junction of the Green and Colorado Rivers, and stayed a short distance from the Uranium mine tailings in Moab while mountain biking. However, for the most part I would be one of the clients you took around the desert, albeit one who had a better idea of what was going on than most. For the most part I've learned to listen to what the guide says and just help out when things go all to hell, which they do on occasion (flash floods, rock slides, etc.)

However, the guides do show a lot of appreciation when the clients use their route finding skills to find the camp in the downpour, rescue all the equipment from the flash flood, dry it out, and set up camp without instructions. It's also useful to have a doctor or two along to patch up the damaged guides. They really should be more careful.

But to get back to the oil shales - I wouldn't expect to see them developed before about 2050. By the time the world is sufficiently far down the Hubbert curve that they may become economic, I expect that both of us will be gone. People who think otherwise are just deluding themselves.

I ran with the bunch you're talking about. We drank lots of beer and smoked lots of Marlboros. I quit it a long time ago. Those who stuck with the lifestyle aren't with us anymore, almost without exception.

I grew up in an environment where I thought there was no potential. Now, I know different, but it's late. I think of going to college and taking math classes. The problem is, I don't know what I'd do with my Mules, Horses, and Dogs. They're my responsibility.

If I had a wife, she could keep the critters fed and I'd show up now and then; I wouldn't want to bother her much.

I don't want to sound as if I have regrets. I don't, my life has been rich and fulfilling. I've never wanted for a thing. I've found much joy in simple things, sitting on the porch on a summers evening, telling stories with and about my many friends, the beauty of a newborn calf, or lamb, or horse, or little mule. I love my goats; Desi is going to have triplets in a few weeks. I love my music, and the little group I play with every Thursday evening. I wouldn't change a thing, except for maybe the Marlboros and all that beer.

I hope I didn't sound disparaging of the folks I used to show around. They were all very nice and I made good tips. I used to have a little trio; We'd sit around the fire in the evening, I'd play my harmonica, and my dogs, Rex and Boomer would sing along. They (my dogs) liked the Mormon tunes best, Put Your Shoulder To The Wheel, and Come, Come Ye Saints. Rex got old and died in my arms one night, heart attack, I guess, and Boomer wouldn't sing without Rex as lead tenor. My tips went down. Me and my dogs gave up the singing business some time ago. Now, I've got Catahoulas, and they're not very musical, not like those Border Collies.

I do enjoy reading TOD and I try to get to it every day during the wintertime. I hope I contribute some little bit. Best from the Fremont

Seems to me, then, that out of that list of places, Las Vegas at least has a problem, similar to Florida's. Extract the hydrocarbons and the water is at increased risk. Don't extract the hydrocarbons and Las Vegas is at increased risk. After all, like Florida but only much more so, Las Vegas runs on large-scale jet tourism and becomes useless without it (or even if it's just curtailed some - Mad Max scenario not needed.) Doesn't seem promising either way.

Fremont--one of the most heartfelt comments I've read on this site. I think the fact that there are players trying to figure out what to do with this stuff speaks volumes about what our current predicament is. Whilst many are still saying that peak oil is a myth, others are trying to figure out how to turn lead into gold, using extreme measures which create many externalities in the process of trying to produce something to power our future. I do think we need to explore all options, but I hope we will discard the truly destructive options. We will not have good options from what I see today, but we need to choose the least harmful and most beneficial. Wind, while not economically wonderful, is less destructive than shale could ever be. My hope for business as unusual is a combination of powering down and a mix of power sources, including wind, reduced coal usage, increased nuclear power, natural gas, and reduced petroleum. We may not be able to find an economically or environmentally viable liquid or gaseous fuel for transport. Our best option may be a massive increase in electrically driven transit supplemented with bicycles, walking and such. Private automobile transit and air travel are likely to be radically changed or reduced. We may end up using very dirty fuels which worsen our carbon imprint. Thanks to Heading Out for illuminating what the technical problems and possibilities are in using shale. It is quite sobering to think that we are at the point where we are considering how to use this stuff.

Considering that recently it became more difficult to access news-stories from "The Economist" online, I shall post here an easy link to a story from the current print edition in which oil from shale is a prominent topic: Natural gas, An unconventional glut: Newly economic, widely distributed sources are shifting the balance of power in the world’s gas markets,
Mar 11th 2010,

Thanks for the link. Interesting that the author started the article by talking about the possible reversal in liquid natural gas flow direction at Kitimat BC but after rushing around the globe never got back to any particulars on the current prospects for that. Getting back to the starting point at the very end is a writing convention I usually appreciate. Darned decent summary nonetheless.

I watched with some interest last week as our state legislature qualified the state's cash commitment to TransCanada pending the results of its open season this summer. Lots happening in the NG world.

Back on the kerogen topic: Loved the way you have sequenced this bunch of oil shale articles HO, it has made for some good discussion.