10 February 2010

Peak Oil: Meet SNF Produced Oil Shale

In the western US states of Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah, sit a number of fossil fuel deposits of enormous size -- totaling well over 1 trillion barrels of oil equivalent.  But getting at those barrels of "oil" has not been easy, for economic, technological, and political reasons.  But things may well be getting better on the technological front. The idea of using spent nuclear fuel (SNF) may kill two birds with one stone.
While oil shale is found in many places worldwide, by far the largest deposits in the world are found in the United States in the Green River Formation 6. Estimates of the oil resource in place within the Green River Formation 6 range from 1.2 to 1.8 trillion barrels. Not all resources in place are recoverable; however, even a moderate estimate of 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil from oil shale in the Green River Formation 6 is three times greater than the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. Present U.S. demand for petroleum products is about 20 million barrels per day. If oil shale could be used to meet a quarter of that demand, the estimated 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil from the Green River Formation 6 would last for more than 400 years

...This invention proposes a method of heating in situ a block of the oil shale containing kerogen in an inorganic matrix with nuclear waste to a temperature of about 270° C. The thermal flux of the nuclear waste fractures the formation, alters the chemical and/or physical properties of the kerogen and allows removal of a mixture of hydrocarbons, H2, and/or other formation fluids at a production well. The technology for producing hydrocarbons from oil shale is well known in the industry and does not form a part of this inventive concept. It is an objective of this invention to use the global inventory of SNF as a heat resource for the production of the oil shale deposits shown in FIG. 1. This is the surest way the United States can prevent the plutonium contained in foreign sourced waste from ever being used to construct a nuclear weapon for use against it. _Source_via_BusinessInsider
There are several viable methods for turning oil shales into crude oil. But it is important that the methods used do not deplete or pollute scarce water resources, and do not irreparably destroy the natural beauty of the desert mountains and canyons in the region.
If proven viable, using spent fuel rods to assist in oil extraction could actually be a cheaper and cleaner way to turn the U.S. into an oil production behemoth. It would also financially incentivize nuclear waste away from terrorists, since the price of such waste would rise given the substantially increased economic usefulness.This technology could also unlock cheaper oil from Canadian tar sands. Metal Miner, who alerted us to this technology, highlights how Suncor Energy could, for example, reduce its financial and potential environmental costs by using SNF-assisted extraction:

Metal Miner: Suncor Energy, one of the country’s largest oil sands operators, announced quarterly results, which were a disappointment to its investors. Taking into account the Energy Return on Investment for SAGD extraction techniques at current prices roughly $15 worth of energy is used to produce a barrel of bitumen. If Suncor/Petro-Canada had produced the 318,200 bpd it reported in its last quarter using the Nuclear Assisted Hydrocarbon Production Method they could have increased their profits by some US$430m -almost double what they did make – and would have produced zero CO2 and polluted not one gallon of surface water.

It's further proof that available oil remains more a function of technology rather than physical limitation.

... _BI

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