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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.


And then there's Norway with $350 billion royalty reserve from their contribution to world petroleum resources.


4 to 1 for shale and 10 to 1 for bitumen is really good, considering deep water wells in the gulf have an EOR of 2 to 5 : 1. Energy independence is vastly more important than the hype of global warming oh sorry since the climate is cooling now the PC term has changed to global climate change. Anyone with a high school education can see that global warming is a Marxist scam.

The sun just entered a new cycle of dimming for the next 25 to 100 years, as is evident by the reverse polarity sunspots being observed. these sun spots always precede solar dimming. The earth is going to get MUCH cooler in the next decades hence the change of name to climate change not warming. When the climate cools it can still be blamed on man somehow keeping the Marxist plan in effect.

There has been quantifiable evidence that the climate has cooled since 1998 when the solar activity peaked. Record snowfalls, record low temperatures all over the northern hemisphere. Growing ice sheets in the Antarctic the list goes on and on.
The greens all whine about consensus,for them it is an ideology bordering on religion. While in reality there is no consensus among the worlds climatologic and paleoclimatological disciplines. There is “consensus” among people who have financial gains to be had by the global climate hysteria. Remember the much touted IPCC is composed of over 50% bureaucrats, and the remaining scientist are on the government take of funding to study climate change it’s a gravy train of epic proportion. My college economics professor always said follow the money. While legitimate climate researchers are silenced when they disagree with the plutocrats self purported “consensus”. A perfect example is the Canadian head of climatology who spoke out against the imaginary concensus he was removed from his position based on political bias.


arnold: "Makes even less sense than zero emission electric cars." ????!? Electric cars themselves don't have emissions. Plug it into solar/wind/hydro/wave power and you still have virtually no emissions. Makes sense to me.


Of course electtric cars plugged to solar, wind will have very low operting emissions, I was as referring to the still common claims that describe grid charging from remote power plants as zero emission (vehichles).
At that rate coal or oil removed by electric machines and burnt off site are zero emission.
Leading to a situation where the largest exporter of coal or oil may claim a zero or low emission economy.
We all Know it goes on, and there is no point complaining as there is no plain languge solution.

As are the coal

Paul F. Dietz

the Raytheon technology is basically microwaving the shale, agitating the molecules by bombarding them using waves of a carefully tuned frequency.

I doubt there is any 'careful tuning' involved, just mostly wavelength independent dissipation of the microwaves in a dielectric medium. Molecules in condensed matter typically don't have any sharp microwave resonances.

Perhaps you have been misled by the old myth that domestic microwave ovens operate at some resonant frequency of water molecules.


Paul F. is right they are using Ohmic heating of a dielectric in this case a hydrocarbon. This type of heating is very efficient and with the right RF electrode spacing ohmic resistance should heat a large volume of space evenly. RF energy can penetrate hundreds of meters at the right frequencys in a dielectric medium. I doubt they are using microwaves probably in the HF spectrum or even VHF to much attenuation at UHF or SHF freqs. The key to this technology is how once heated do you get the product up the well string. In this case the Supercritical Fluid is key. Since a supercritical fluid is both a liquid and a gas at the same time. It has special properties one of which is supersolvinity. CO2 is a wonder solvent of non-polar molecules above its supercritical point which is why it works so well on hydrocarbons since they’re all non-polar compounds. These 2 technologies were made for this kind of work only recently have RF power electronics progressed to far enough to allow the large scale cheap generation of RF energies at the multi megawatt levels needed to heat large volumes of rocks. This is exciting stuff. This summer for Geologic field camp I am going along with a number of other postgraduate students to the Green River formation to do research on the Green River formation specifically yield per acre analytics. We are being funded by Connaco Phillips should be quite exciting work. I personally have been working on a thesis of using cyclic supercritical CO2 / high pressure steam cosolvents to liquefy heavy oils using micro coil on tube drilling here in the Great State of Texas. We are achieving an 82% recovery rate on our test formation near Post Texas south east of Lubbock. Or energy in to energy out ratio is 4 to 1 for depths less than 5000 feet the current limit of microhole drilling. The CO2 solvent is recycled closed loop as is the condensate from the steam. Good thermal efficiency is maintained because sedimentary basin rocks are all relatively poor conductors of heat once heated they stay hot for an extended period of time. Any heat leaving the system via the extracted product is exchanged countercurrently with the inflowing solvent through heat recovery exchangers at the surface its all makes for a very efficient process. At the commercial level with microhole drilling heavy oil should be extractable with a crude oil price of 35 bucks a barrel or more at $95 all the heavy oils in the northern hemisphere shallower than 5000 feet should be accessible with Raytheon’s method or hopefully mine too. Too bad my School gets any patents on my process but hey no tears Connaco already hired me before I graduate in the mid 6 figures. It’s good to be a Geologist these days. How about that $4 gas California? Most Californians don’t know that there sitting on 60 billion barrels of heavy to extra heavy crude recoverable at 82% with my process in the southern part of the state but the Greens in Sacramento wont let anyone drill for it sad so sad. At least in Texas we drill for what we got.


"here in the Great State of Texas" ... are all states great? Does anyone come from a "The Pathetic State of ..." or the "Fair to Middling state of ...". Just a curious. ;)

NativeTexan 50% Comanchee

I beg to differ North Dakota for one, who is going to hole up in a old mission and fight to the last man for North Dakota? or Mass for that matter. Yea I can see it now Remember Fargo! Its the Red Blooded Texans that make the state great most would fight and die for the oppertunity to be independent from the rest of the 49. Always remeber The United States needs Texas not the other way around. We have if liberated from the 49 the worlds tenth largest economy; larger economicly that than France BTW, 6th largest military the Texas National Guard has 60000 active members, in addion to the Texas state guard with another 35000 in additoin to another 200000 or so in the inactive ready reserves from those 2 forces. Enough oil and natural gas to meet in-state consuption for 50 years at current levels if we did not have to supply the rest of the union with Natural gas 60% of domestic gas comes from the Texas Gulf coast. If independent Under international maritime law Texas would get a 200 mile EEZ in to the gulf just like any other nation. which puts 90 billion barrels of oil at our disposal most locked away by Prez Krinton in the outer continetal shelf no drill zones. Texas has VAST coal deposits enough for hundreds of years of consuption. Texas has vast uranium resources too, with 4 very large commercial reactors on line we have enough PU239 sitting in waste casks and cooling ponds for a crash weapons program to get an arsenal of N weapons very quickly the infarstructure is already in place remeber all existing warheads were put together in a little known plant just south of Ammarillo Tx called Pantex. Mexico would not dare invade a independant Texas like they do now especially if Texas was a N power on its own right. We are a net food exporter on all levels, in addition to being the number 3 rice producer in the world, cotton too. Texas could fair better off with out the drag of the union on it thats for sure. Thanks to lincolins illigal war in 1865 and Texas is stuck with the 49 until something drastic happens.

Henry Gibson

Plutonium from power reactors is a far different mix of isotopes than Plutonium from a Plutonium production reactor where it spends only a few days in the reactor after being produced from U238. It is impossible to build an atomic bomb with pure natural Uranium and it is also impossible to build one with plutonium from "spent" power reactor fuel rods, but both can be used to produce electricity in a CANDU power station. You would die after a few weeks of drinking only heavy water with the heavy isotope of hydrogen at 100%. A few percent of "heavy" plutonium ruins it for trying to build a bomb much less getting it to explode at the right time. The heavy plutonium would destroy both the conventional explosive needed as well as the people trying to build it with radioactivity...Cars that condense CO2 to liquid are far easier to build than ones with Hydrogen in enough high pressure tanks to get a range of 300 miles. Nuclear powered electric cars in France already solve the whole problem. Nuclear power from France will be able to get all the way to Norway in a few weeks, by a direct path, in case there is a shortage of water power for the TH!NK cars. ...HG...

Paul F. Dietz

it is also impossible to build [a nuclear device] with plutonium from "spent" power reactor fuel rods

This is a well-debunked myth. It is certainly more difficult to build a nuclear device with reactor grade Pu, but by no means impossible (the US did so in a test in 1962). Nor is it impossible to build an efficient bomb from reactor grade Pu. Reactor grade Pu has a higher neutron background than 'weapons grade' Pu, but not enormously higher.

Consider: existing nuclear weapons are intended to work even in the extremely hostile environment around a wartime missile field, where many other warheads are going off, flooding the environment with neutrons (even many seconds after explosion, due to delayed neutrons from fission products). The weapons must be insensitive to preinitiation, probably due to use of DT boosting in the primary; even a 'fizzle' heats the DT booster hot enough for copious fusion to occur, and the fusion neutrons drive a great deal of additional fission in the now-subcritical expanding core.

See also this excerpt from the LLNL publication Extraction and Utility of Reactor-Grade Plutonium for Weapons.

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