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A small price to pay

Dear Editor: Rick Heede’s “Take suggestion with heap of salt,” March 14, needs a little, no maybe a lot of, correction. Rick, I never suggested putting liquid-burning solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) into bore holes, but using them, together with advanced battery technology, to replace the internal combustion engine, thereby cutting global fossil fuel consumption by at least 3-to-1.If there is any economic sanity at all, the time to cut fossil fuel production and exploration is when demand has waned (SOFC technology?), not just cut it or not develop it out of some hysteria over global warming (see my guest opinion: “Nothing’s happened,” The Aspen Times, March 9), and then stand back and watch the economic carnage that would surely result. We have all been treated to a global lesson on oil dependence and war. We have the means to be oil-independent, via oil shale and coal. We should explore these options in all due haste.Your description of Shell Oil’s in-place extraction is partly right (see http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2005/RAND_MG414.pdf). Whether it’s coal, oil, gas, oil shale, production or usage, there is just no way to be entirely environmentally benign. But let me summarize for you Shell Oil’s proposal. Essentially, they propose to drill 15, 1,000-foot-deep electrically heated bore holes per acre with a production well in the center. They propose to heat the entire 1,000-foot-deep profile – 2,420,000 tons of material – to 750 degrees Fahrenheit. The process takes two to three years to get to temperature. Then oil pumping begins. To prevent groundwater contamination, Shell proposes to surround the field with bore holes and to freeze, by refrigerated coolant, to a depth of 1,000 feet to form a water barrier. The expected yield is 500,000 barrels of oil per day for a year per 150-acre site based on 30 gallons per ton yield. An additional 500 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year is also produced as a byproduct. The energy requirements are 250-300 kilowatt-hours per barrel ($12-$15 per barrel), about one sixth the net production BTU values – i.e. you’re right, it will require several coal-fired power plants.Much of western Colorado, Wyoming and Utah are oil shale (million and millions of acres). At 30 gallons per ton, there are 1,320,000 barrels per acre. At $60 per barrel, the recovered oil value is about $79,200,000 per acre. Shell says that they can produce oil shale oil for $25 per barrel, or the net value of an acre of oil shale, after all costs are paid, is about $46,200,000. That’s more than the value of an acre in midtown Manhattan (about $1,000 per square foot). This definitely would qualify as a “mega-technology solution.” Only in America could we think so big or be so bold. With land recovery included, this seems like a small price to pay for energy-independence.Mike MasonCedaredge


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