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Schlumberger Acquires Raytheon Technology for Oil Extraction from Oil Shale and Oil Sands

Radio Frequency / Critical Fluid Oil Extraction Technology. Click to enlarge.

Schlumberger, a leading oilfield services company, has acquired Raytheon’s technology for the extraction of oil from oil shale and oil sands. Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

The technology, developed by Raytheon and partner CF Technologies for oil shale processing, combines radio frequency (RF) technology from Raytheon with critical fluid (CF) technology from CF Technologies. (Earlier post.) Raytheon has projected that the same process could also be used to retrieve oil from Canadian oil sands and to reprocess spent wells.

Field experience indicates that the Raytheon RF heating technique obtains recovery rates of 75% of the oil shale’s Fisher Assay value. (A method used to approximate the energy potential of an oil-shale deposit.) Coupling RF heating with the CF technology has resulted in recovery rates as high as 90 to 95%.

Critical fluids, or supercritical fluids (SCF), are liquids or gases used in a state above their critical temperature and pressure (critical point). In this state, the SCF has unique properties different from those of either gases or liquids, offering a combination of liquid-like density and solvency, with gas-like viscosity, diffusivity, compressibility and lack of surface tension.

As a result, supercritical fluids can rapidly penetrate porous and fibrous solids, offer good catalytic activity and can dissolve and extract a wide range of chemicals. Carbon dioxide is commonly used as a supercritical fluid.

Under the oil shale extraction scenario, oil well holes are drilled into the shale strata using standard oil-industry equipment. RF antennae, or transmitters, are lowered into the shale. The antennae then transmit RF energy to heat uniformly the buried shale rock. This results in the volatilization of water, which, in turn, results in the microfracturing of the formation, enhancing product recovery.

Samples of kerogen extracted from oil shale with the RF/CF process. Click to enlarge. Credit: Raytheon

Supercritical carbon-dioxide fluid is then pumped into the shale formations to separate the petroleum from the rock and direct the freed fuel to another well, where it is extracted. Next, the carbon-dioxide fluid is separated from the oil and gas, which is sent to a refinery and further processed into gasoline, heating oil and other products. Ultimately, a self-sequestration approach is expected to yield a neutral carbon foot print for process operations.

The RF/CF combination is more economical and environmentally responsible than older oil shale extraction techniques as it uses less power, does not severely disrupt the landscape or leave behind residue that can enter groundwater supplies.

Raytheon earlier estimated that the technology would retrieve four to five barrels of oil for every one barrel invested. Other in-situ processes retrieve one and a half to three barrels of oil for every barrel consumed estimated.

For tar sands and heavy oil, the Raytheon process could yield 10 to 15 barrels of oil equivalent per barrel consumed, due to the lower heating temperatures required. When applied in tar sands, the combined RF/CF technology performs a mild upgrading in-situ, yielding an attractive light sweet crude oil. The process is “tunable”, facilitating production of various product slates.

The use of RF technology in shale processing would enable the fuel to be extracted from the earth in only one to two months. In-ground heating methods that do not employ radio waves, by contrast, require three to four years to replicate the natural conversion process.

Raytheon’s RF technology was commercially proven for oil shale applications in the 1970s. Since then, the company has continued to perfect the technology, focusing on antenna design and system integration.




Now we just need cars to trail long hoses from the tailpipe for underground carbon capture and the cycle will be near complete. Not only CO2 but supercritical water and methanol have been mentioned recently on GCC and other websites. Let's hope the problems (eg explosive pressures) can be managed.


Well I applaud their efforts and with direct air extraction they might be able to be CO2 neutral (assuming the CO2 stays down there for some time), but all of this is only possible at high oil prices, thus peak oil is still in effect: end of cheap oil.


If this technology can make can make canadian oil shale and oil sands extractable in-situ, it can also be used on all the 'empty' oil wells in the middle-east, north sea, Texas, ...
This means that with this technology, the amount of extractable oil in the world can be multiplied manytimes. So, peak-oil will be postponed for decades.
Another reason why we should not count on peak-oil as a solution for the CO2 problem.

Jim G.

the Raytheon technology is basically microwaving the shale, agitating the molecules by bombarding them using waves of a carefully tuned frequency. Ironic they use this method to recover heating oil that then gets burned the old fashioned inefficient way.


This shows me that we are on our last methods of extracting some of what is left. If this is not a sign that we need to change our ways, I do not know what is.

Harvey D

Could it be that we will see two phases:

1) peak cheap oil (soon)

2) peak high price oil (5 or 6 decades latter)

Would cheap oil be up to $150/barrel and high price oil anything above?

Jim G.

Not that it's good news, but there are some other factors distorting the peak curve, such as Iraq, with the third largest reserves, experiencing a decade of sanctions followed by a long period of political instability that's prevented the oil from coming out at full capacity. There are also smaller producers like Nigeria in which workers periodically destroy infrastructure to protest poor conditions, or the Caspian Sea region, in which great powers squabbling over which pipeline path should be built hasn't sped production along either (plus there are instable places like Georgia and Chechenya and Armenia/Azerbaijian along those routes, perhaps not entirely by accident). If it all came out as easily and predictably as it did from Texas we'd surely have used more of it by now and would be in even worse shape.

Rafael Seidl

4-5 barrels returned for every barrel invested into the recovery process sounds great until you realize that's roughly where first-generation biodiesel production stands today. We should probably leave oil shale deposits well alone and focus R&D efforts on improving the efficiency (i.e. cost) of sustainable, renewable hydrocarbons.


I am of the opinion that biodiesel and plant based products would be put to better use in developing plastics to supplant that portion of petroleum use while the ground transportation moves to electrification.


I see the use of technology in transportation as trading hardware for efficiency. Is it cheaper to drill a mile down in the ocean and develop tar sands or make PHEVs?

As a society and economy, it is usually cheaper to make the PHEVs than to drill. However, this does not increase the profits of the oil companies and others that sell to them.


Note that only the "operation" is carbon neutral. We're still pulling more carbon out of the ground than we are putting in. I would hope that when they are finished with a site they would use it to sequester as much carbon as possible.

Jim B.

Several problems with peak oil presently. Most of the cheap crude oil lies within boundaries of national oil company control. These companies are not interested in pumping more than they can sell at a high price.

So they don't invest in better technology or exploration wells or common-sense maintenance, cause they're already getting richer than god. They're rightly afraid of LOWER OIL PRICES, not running out of oil.

I like to bash big oil companies as much as anybody, but it's out of their hands. All they've got left is the tar sands and oil shales and deep offshore wells. Yeah, it's more expensive (profitable at $40-$50 bl) compared to Saudi crude (profitable at $10-$15 bl). But damn! they can get $90 to $100/ bl. Not so expensive at all, then.

No, it ain't peak oil, boys. Zip up your pants and wait a while.

Tony Belding

This is the kind of technology needed to turn global warming from a manageable problem into a real crisis. We can either power our cars from "unconventional oils" and flood the atmosphere with far more CO2 emissions than we've ever released before, or we can get off oil as a transportation fuel. I'm for getting off oil.


Neil when they say carbon nuetral for the operation you can be sure they really mean "We'd like it to appear as carbon nuetral - (as other methods), but thats not going to happen, so we greenwash this one with RF and see what happens" people are so gullible.
Makes even less sense than zero emission electric cars.


Hi All,

Sand is a pretty good dielectric (silica) but shale is not. So much more of the RF energy will end up in the oil in the tar sands, than in the oil shales. In the Oil shales, this process is probably similar to other heating methods in efficiency.

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