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Shell Considering Nuclear Power for Production of Limestone-Trapped Bitumen

The Globe and Mail reports that Royal Dutch Shell is considering nuclear power to support an experimental technology to extract bitumen trapped in hard-rock limestone, rather than in conventional oil sands.

Shell, through Calgary-based subsidiary Sure Northern Energy Ltd., paid the Alberta government C$571-million to acquire exploration rights 100 kilometers west of Fort McMurray, the heart of the oil sands development at this time. The Shell area reportedly holds an estimated 60 billion barrels of raw bitumen.

Shell’s in-situ production technology uses in-ground heaters to loosen up the bitumen for extraction. Applying the technology in the limestone area would require a very large amount of electricity, hence the interest in nuclear power.

The Anglo-Dutch energy giant is the likeliest customer for a nuclear power plant proposed by Energy Alberta Corp., a private company working with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

Energy Alberta, backed by oil patch veteran Hank Swartout, has a deal with government-controlled AECL to develop a nuclear reactor for the oil sands.

One unnamed company is looking to take 70 per cent of the output from Energy Alberta’s proposed $6.2-billion twin nuclear reactor that would start producing 2,200 megawatts in 2016. The reactor design exists only on a drawing board and the amount of power is equal to about a fifth of Alberta’s electricity supply.

For comparison, Suncor Energy Inc., the second-largest oil sands producer, uses roughly 400 megawatts of electricity at its operations.



I would be interested in the economics of this method.

I hope that the current practice of strip mining is not increased significantly. It would be ashame to destroy so much of the natural landscape of Alberta. There is far more oil further down that will have to use in ground techniques such as this. If it is economically feasible to go after the lower stuff now, why not just do that and leave the ground layers alone.

There are so many environmental issues with heavy oil extraction... water use, water disposal, strip mining, CO2 release. If the US can't curb it's appetite, it would seem to me that we should own up to the fact and more seriously consider drilling on our own lands (Alaska) where the oil at least can be removed in a more environmentally friendly manner.

P Schager

And then because Shell and Canada will have all these billions of dollars invested in their project to produce this high-cost oil, we will be stuck with more political stubbornness than ever to keep the status quo. That of using Western high-cost oil to cap the cost of Arab oil and thus committing to keep the price of oil high to protect this investment. Whereas a 1 GW reactor (if you're going to build that) could keep about 2.3 million electric cars on the road, and then we'd be well on our way to forgetting about oil dependence. Just cut out the petroleum from the picture.

Worse, we give yet another lame excuse to all the Arab countries that want to tinker with nuclear power for supposedly energy objectives. It'll help strip those oil fields one day, you see.


Not only that but we're setting up another tempting target for terrorists or foreign military to strike at!

I totaly agree with the comments above, even though i havent read them.

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