Friday, December 23, 2005

Why $5 Gas Is Good for America

Wired has a nice write up on alternative energy and why higher gas prices will allow us to get there quicker. This has been a recuring theme here at Fat Knowledge. Here is a list of the alternatives, and links to the previous Fat Knowledge articles on them (just to prove they are there).

Energy Unleashed at:
Long-term price per barrel: $20-$30

Ultradeep offshore Wells
Gas to Liquid
Tar sands
Digital oil fields

Long-term price per barrel: $30-$70
Natural Gas
Coal to Liquid

Long-term price per barrel: $70 & up
Methane hydrates
Plug-in Hybrids
Oil shale
Can't believe I haven't written on tar sands before. The one type of energy I hadn't heard of was Oil shale, which is similar to the tar sands. Wired spits out the details of it.
The barren scrub of Colorado's sparsely inhabited northwest corner is just the kind of godforsaken place you'd expect petroleum to turn up. It's also where, in early 2004, a bunch of Shell researchers pushed the button that lit some seriously powerful electric heating elements they'd placed in 16 drill holes. Three months later, temperatures in the target rock hit 700 degrees Fahrenheit, and a cheerful mix of oil and natural gas started bubbling up. The experiment ended this fall, with 1,700 barrels of inky liquid safely stored in holding tanks.

After two decades of quiet research, Shell Exploration & Production has released intriguing details about its Mahogany Research Project, named for the Mahogany layer of rock known as oil shale that lies beneath Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. Thirty onsite staff and 130 others back at Shell's US headquarters in Houston are pushing ahead with a final round of feasibility tests. If things go well, the payoff could be staggering: as much as 2 trillion barrels of crude, enough to supply a century of US consumption at the current rate. Nearly four times Saudi Arabia's proven reserve. Right here, in the middle of nowhere.

They bake the rock with deep-set heating elements while ringing the site with underground refrigeration pipes so newly mobile hydrocarbons don't leak away. This technique takes a lot of energy (though no more than conventional oil drilling, Shell says; roughly 3.5 times as much energy comes out as goes in).

But the yield is what really grabs attention: a projected 1 million barrels per surface acre, 10 times more than the conventional dig-crush-cook method. With multiples like that, Shell executives think they might be able to make the process economical at $25 to $30 a barrel - less than half the price of traditional extraction.
2 trillion barrels in the US, economical at $25-35 a barrel, holy smokes! Don't know what the environmental impact would be, but this is something to look into further.

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