Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Possible disruptive event in oil business

Jack Brynaur says that "engineers at Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A) have applied for a patent on a new method of extracting shale oil cheaply and cleanly. (As an interesting side note, it is the largest patent application in U.S. history.) Amazingly, this method:
  • Is cleaner than conventional drilling
  • Generates the highest grade of light-sweet crude oil, which burns cleaner than other varieties
  • Becomes profitable with oil just north of $30 a barrel (which we've already blown past)
  • In other words, with Shell's new technique, it actually benefits the environment to switch to shale oil. I found this hard to believe at first, but seeing as I am a patent lawyer, I decided to pull the patent application to see for myself. When I saw the invention laid out on paper, I was convinced that it would work."

    An analysis by the Colorado School of Mines published in 1998 estimated that "The largest of the U. S. oil shale deposits is found in the 16,500 square-mile Green River formation in northwestern Colorado, northeastern Utah, and southwestern Wyoming. The richest and most easily recoverable deposits are located in the Piceance Creek Basin in western Colorado and the Uinta Basin in eastern Utah...The deposits are estimated to contain 562 billion barrels of recoverable oil. This is more than 64 percent of the world's total proven crude oil reserves."

    As Brynauer says, "According to the Chicken Littles of the world, we've been "about to run out of oil" for over thirty years. Obviously it hasn't happened yet. With the recent upswing in strife in the Middle East, however, the notion has gained in popularity. The thing is, this theory is utterly false, and can be laid to rest with a single well-established fact: there is more oil in the Colorado shale fields than the entire Middle East had at its peak. The only reason we're still importing oil is that, at present, it is cheaper to do so than to extract it from shale."

    In my view, with oil prices at their current levels, it will be possible to develop alternative sources of oil such as the oil shales in an environmentally responsible way, and it appears that Shell has developed a recovery method for oil shale.

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