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Chevron and Los Alamos Jointly Research Oil Shale Hydrocarbon Recovery

Oil shale bed.

Chevron Corporation and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have created a joint research project to improve the recovery of hydrocarbons trapped in oil shales and slow-flowing oil formations.

The goal of the Chevron-Los Alamos collaboration is to develop an environmentally responsible and commercially viable process to recover crude oil and natural gas from western US oil shales. The joint research and development effort will focus on oil shale formations in the Piceance Basin in Colorado.

The Chevron-LANL work will include reservoir simulation and modeling, as well as experimental validation of new recovery techniques, including a form of in-situ production that has the potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions via the capture and re-use of combustion gases.

Chevron Shale’s concept for pilot oil shale RD&D. Click to enlarge.

Chevron Shale Oil Company’s oil shale development proposal is one of the five judged eligible for further consideration and analysis by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The other four are one from EGL Resources, Inc. and three from Shell Frontier.

Chevron plans to use the 160-acre lease in the RD&D program to evaluate the technologies developed through its alliance with Los Alamos, subject both to approval from the bureau and the success of the research program.

As outlined in its proposal, Chevron’s basic approach is to use conventional drilling technologies and modified fracturing techniques designed to control and contain subsurface processes within the oil-rich shale zone.

Chevron suggests that the use of conventional drilling methods for extraction would require a smaller footprint, and may therefore be less injurious to the environment, than past shale oil extraction technologies. The use of conventional drilling may also be more cost efficient and consume fewer resources since water and power requirements would be approximately equal to that of any modern oil and gas drilling operation.

After drilling, Chevron would apply a series of controlled horizontal fractures within the target interval to prepare the production zone for heating and in-situ combustion. Critical to the viability of the process is the ability to generate relative uniformity in the fractured material to yield economic quantities of shale oil when heated to the kerogen decomposition temperature. (Kerogen is the organic precursor to oil or natural gas contained in the shale.)

Chevron proposes to circulate hot CO2-rich gases through the fractured formation from well to well and then routed back to a gas generator to be reheated. This process would create the heat needed to decompose the kerogen into producible hydrocarbons.

In-situ combustion of the remaining organic matter in previously heated and depleted zones would generate the heated gases required to process successive intervals. These gases would then be pressured from the depleted zone into the newly fractured portion of the formation and the process would be repeated.

The Chevron-LANL research project will be conducted under the Strategic Alliance for Energy Solutions launched by Los Alamos and Chevron in 2004. The alliance supports Los Alamos in its mission, on behalf of the US Department of Energy, to advance the national, economic and energy security of the United States through scientific and technological innovation. It also supports Chevron’s strategy to develop innovative research and educational partnerships within the energy industry.




Again, this shows the extremes that some will go to for more oil. Rather than think of new ways to provide energy for transportation, they want to extract whatever is left by even more costly methods. I to not want to see extraction rigs all over national lands, when there are better ways. But when you are an oil company, this seems like the way.


If this is fruitful I suggest investing in Schlumberger. They are working on the biggest oil shale deposits in the US.


A better and cleaner way of getting off foriegn oil. Sounds good to me. I would much rather it be renewable, but any step at self reliance is a step foward.


Beautiful. Lets just strip clear the rockies & burn it all into the atmosphere.

We are creating the day of reckoning.

People would rather drive big fat cars, rather than do more with less... the consequence is destroying the planet for their children. People can't see what is happenning. We need our government to step in & make things like this simply ILLEGAL.

Talk about crimes against humanity.


Hey Matt, they already strip mine the areas for many different resources as is. I would love to see people use more efficient means of travel but even if all vehicles were immediately changed over to a different power source you will still have strip mining "raping" the earth for other resources.


Environmentally responsible oil from oil shale is about like saying a cancer-free cigarette that cleans the air. What they're describing may be slightly less harmful than the current horribly bad methods, but it is a million miles from anything benign. The money would be far better spent on solar or biofuels. I don't even know why this story is on Green Car Congress.... it belongs more on The Road Warrior Congress.

Jay Tee

hey Matt, Zach,
Let's all junk our cars, stop heating our homes, and dismantle all the power plants, ok?

hampden wireless

In general shale makes coal look clean.

I prefer nuclear to this.


Jay, not productive debate! For the time being we need to use oil. I would much rather see deep sea drilling, even drilling in ANWR than shale oil. Hampden is quite right that oil shale makes coal look good. Nuclear is a far better option, as is virtually anything other than tar sands (which is about equally bad, just in slightly different ways). Even coal to liquid is probably better, and we have far more domestic coal supplies than we do oil shale.

Being environmentally conscious doesn't have to mean living in an unheated shack or treating it as a religion.

Harvey D.

The only real difference between oil extraction from Tar Sands and Shales is the geographic location. It would be more generous to pollute ourself in our homeland instead of our northern Canadian neighbour. Or, would that be anti-American?

Extraction from shales would be a great pollution double ''wammy'' for USA.

Mark R. W. Jr.

Granted that shale and tar sand is not perfect, but at least it's better than relying on foreign oil which is very volatile in value considering the speculators and weather conditions.

And keep in mind that when blended with increasing ethanol production, we can use cleaner gasohol like E10 and E85 for our vehicles.


High oil prices are starting to drive research and innovation in EV's, PHEV's and fuel efficiency but unfortunately dirty, energy intensive fuel sources like oil shale also become more attractive in these conditions.
Some of the posts here suggest that we have no alternative than to continue driving the planet towards runaway climate change. I have news for you, business as usual is destroying our planet and, ultimately, us.
Article after article on this forum show that there are massive opportunities to move towards sustainability without recourse to the false dichotomy of having to choose between "business as usual or back to the stone age". Unfortunately mindsets change more slowly than the technology and the opportunities we have before us.

Ron Fischer

Heat-based extraction strikes me as less efficient than solvent-based (liquid CO2, etc.). With solvents, you don't need to heat enormous volumes of rock... and keep heating them to make up for losses to the surrounding strata. The tradeoff here seems to be surface area into the material (for solvents) vs. penetration of the heat, and also the cost of energy for heating vs. volumes of solvent.

Rick Gross

Here are some comments/factoids: (1) I wonder if the oil shale deposits are the same one's mined by UNOCAL under the Fred Hartley regime; maybe Chevron got them in the UNOCAL purchase, (2) google "aboiotic oil genesis" for an interesting take on whether or not 'fossil fuels' are really finite, (3) there are more btu's in known coal deposits in N. American that there were in total btu's of oil in Saudi Arabia before the first barrel was pumped. (4) Coal gasification yields about 3+ gallons of diesel per ton of bituminous coal.


I have not seen anyone comment on the global warming impact of heating shale or tar sands to extract oil. This just does not seem to be wise even if we can get oil out.


I've been neglectful in not stating something that's obvious to me but likely not to most: one of the biggest problems with this recovery is local environmental contamination, especially oil and oil-related nasties getting into the groundwater. Click on the second diagram and you'll see a groundwater monitoring well on the left, tapping into a formation below what they're proposing to fracture. I'm sure they will claim little or no groundwater contamination, but don't believe it! Fracturing a rock formation, while now quite common, is nasty and not all that predictable. While this is not a good approach from a global GHG perspective, it is much worse still from a local contamination perspective.

As for energy independence, I am 100% for it. I don't like sending oil dollars overseas. But I think virtually all other currently in development alternative fuel sources are better than this one.


Mining companies have been dealing with ground water problems by freezing the area surrounding the affected area.


There is significant difference between Canadian oil sand and oil shale. Our oil sands are in general regular oil sands, but due to very close location to surface most of light oil fractions evaporated (to the environment). Remaining tar-like hydrocarbons could be easily separated from sand by simple heating. Because these deposits are by definition very close to surface, they are currently cheaply mined in open pits, oil boiled off, and remaining practically dry sand is deposited back into mine. Potentially this operation could be extremely clean and restore mines back to “green lawn condition”. We all have to demand only this kind of heavy oil sand exploration.

Oil shale is different matter. Usually it is deposited way dipper, and generally consists of clay which adsorbed oil. Extract this oil from clay is very difficalt process. For many years oil shale was considered “last oil reserve”, and probably will remain this way forever.

BTW, Chevron looks being serious in diversification of their energy business. They have massive geothermal generating facilities in Indonesia and Philippines, investing in wind and solar, currently began construction of biodiesel plant in Texas, have substantial joint ventures with Iogen to produce cellulosic ethanol, and with Cobasis to develop advanced batteries. Total investments are not very substantial for such a company (about 2+ billions?), but no doubts more then required for green image PR.


Producing oil shale oil or gas needs a lot of energy. Best oil producing efficency from oil shale is in temperature about 500-550 Celsius and gas production above that temperature.
Underground chemical reactions just above the groundwater layer doesn't seem environmentaly safe.

Tony Belding

After petroleum becomes too scarce and expensive to dream of burning as fuel, our industries will still need petrochemicals -- plastics, solvents, paints, pharmaceuticals, insecticides and more. That's when extracting oil shale will really make sense.

Paul Dietz

After petroleum becomes too scarce and expensive to dream of burning as fuel, our industries will still need petrochemicals -- plastics, solvents, paints, pharmaceuticals, insecticides and more. That's when extracting oil shale will really make sense.

It's possible that coal or biomass-based feedstocks will be cheaper. The volume of biomass is certainly sufficient for this application, which is only small fraction of the total petroleum demand.

John Donaldson

our oil shale reserves in utah and Nevada which is mostly desert uninhabitable regions far exceeds All know Saudi Oil, it is far too expensive to extract at $30/bl however at our present cost approx $60/bl it becomes economicaly feasable and with rising oil costs we need to be doing the research. This is not to say we should not be persuing with all speed alternative fuels, advanced battery storage and super capacitors for electricity and phev/pev with household PV arrays for the consumer. This only makes economic sense in both the short and long run, any thing less than expanding our options on all fronts would be careless. However for national economic and security reasons we need to have oil supplies that are not imported from foreign national soils.


So who do you think will win the contract to do the drilling?

Jay Draiman, Energy Analyst

Use renewable energy to extract oil shale deposits
The trillion barrel oil shale and oil sand deposits in North America offer the potential to make the less energy dependent on unreliable foreign sources. However, if these unconventional deposits were produced using existing combustion processes, substantial CO2 emissions would be injected into air.
To avoid this green house gas problem and yet produce liquid fuels, a wind powered electro thermal energy storage system is described. It stores the unpredictable intermittent wind electrical energy as thermal energy over long periods in thick fossil hydrocarbon deposits. Because thermal diffusion time is very slow in such deposits, thermal energy is effectively trapped in a defined section of the hydrocarbon deposit. This allows time for the thermal energy to convert hydrocarbons into gaseous and liquid fuels. The process is highly energy-efficient and makes available considerably more energy than was expended during the heating. In addition, the method can increase the reliability of the grid and provide a load-leveling function. The wind-powered electro thermal conversion method produces substantially less CO2 than traditional shale oil extraction processes or renewable energy processes that employ a combustion step to produce the fuel.
In order to reduce the use of fossil fuel, renewable energy such as Solar and Wind should be utilized to extract the oil from shale. Additionally renewable energy should be used to power up the pumps that bring water from areas of the country where water is plentiful. Also utilize renewable energy to deliver the end product OIL to its ultimate destination for processing.
In short wherever and whenever possible utilize renewable energy to produce and ship oil and its derivatives to its various destinations.
The use of renewable energy technologies will enhance and expedite the technological advancement of renewable energy and maximize the efficiency.
We should also utilize renewable energy to produce hydrogen from water.
Cost of ENERGY has been going up since 2000, and it will keep going up as long as world population increases and various industrial and developing nations demand for energy increases.
There is no way around – we must develop renewable energy and increase the current renewable energy technology’s efficiency and reduce cost to the end-user.
Has anyone considered using the oil shale deposits in Colorado? The U.S. has the largest reserves of oil shale in the world by far. In a RAND Corporation report in 2005, it stated that oil shale production would be economically viable when oil reached $75 dollar per barrel.

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