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The Daily Sentinel (Colorado): Oil-shale idea back in play

ExxonMobil may revisit familiar ground its Colony site

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

One week before the 25th anniversary of Black Sunday, ExxonMobil is showing renewed interest in oil shale and may begin conducting research on in situ oil shale extraction on private land at its long-defunct Colony Project site near Parachute.

It was on Black Sunday, May 2, 1982, when the former Exxon Corp. shocked the Western Slope with the news it was shutting down the Colony Oil Shale Project, snuffing out the dreams and jobs of thousands of Coloradans.

ExxonMobil, to which the Bureau of Land Management denied a Piceance Basin oil shale in situ, or “in place,” research and development lease last year, will be “doing some research and development with its own technology on its own land,” BLM Colorado Solid Minerals Chief Jim Edwards said Monday.

Company officials didn’t give a timetable for ExxonMobil’s oil shale testing when it met with faculty at the Colorado School of Mines last year, but “it could be pretty fast,” Dr. Jeremy Boak, Project Manager of the Colorado Energy Research Institute at the School of Mines, said Tuesday.

Boak said ExxonMobil’s in situ oil shale test “presumably” will be at the Colony Project site.

ExxonMobil is developing what it calls the “Electrofrac Process” of in situ oil shale extraction, a method developed for the Piceance Basin that the company detailed during the School of Mines Oil Shale Symposium last October.

“Conceptually, it’s a really exciting idea,” but ExxonMobil has yet to prove it can work outside the laboratory, Boak said.

Before the company could start its test there, it would have to amend its 1980 Mined Land Reclamation permit, which is still active, said Steve Shuey, a Grand Junction environmental protection specialist for the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety.

An amendment to the permit would require a public comment process of at least 90 days. The state has not received an amendment application from ExxonMobil, Shuey said.

If any company has the money to develop oil shale in situ, Boak said, it’s ExxonMobil.

The company, which on Tuesday scored the BLM’s approval for expanded natural gas drilling on nearly 29,700 acres near Meeker, refused to comment on the specifics of its oil shale plans or whether the Colony site will be used for research.

“ExxonMobil believes a long-term commitment to field research will be required to develop economically viable unconventional oil-related technologies for the future,” company spokesman Len A. D’Eramo said in an e-mail. “With that noted, ExxonMobil is one of a very few companies that has the world-class technology and the financial strength to pursue such resources.”

Even with those resources, ExxonMobil couldn’t convince the BLM its oil shale technology was good enough for the agency to grant it a research and development lease on public land. Of the five such leases that were granted in Colorado, one was granted to Chevron, another to EGL Resources and three to Royal Dutch Shell.

The BLM denied ExxonMobil’s oil shale research and development lease application because it proposed to conduct its research project on land near Rifle closed to oil shale development and would not have begun the project until the eighth year of its 10-year lease, BLM Washington spokesman Matt Spangler said.

On top of that, ExxonMobil would have destroyed the nahcolite that would have been produced in its process, BLM Colorado spokeswoman Denise Adamic said.

“You can’t destroy one resource in order to recover another one,” she said.

ExxonMobil has been developing an in situ oil shale extraction process since at least 2001, when the company applied for a patent for such a process. In 2005, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued ExxonMobil a patent for a “method for production of hydrocarbons from organic-rich rock.”

The “Electrofrac Process” would require the company to drill into the oil shale, heat it with an electrically conductive material acting as an electrode, then pump oil to the surface, Boak said.

Whatever ExxonMobil’s plans are, Colorado energy industry representatives either know little of them or will not talk about them.

“I don’t know anything about it,” Colorado Petroleum Association President Stan Dempsey said. “They’ve got a lot of stuff going on with natural gas. They still have interests in oil shale.”

Kathy Hall, a consultant for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association in Grand Junction, said if ExxonMobil conducts its own oil shale tests “it’s just one more company making their own investment.”

Hall declined to comment further.

If ExxonMobil, or any of the other companies doing oil shale research in the region, goes forward with oil shale testing in the Piceance Basin, “it means another layering effect of what’s already taking place with the gas industry,” Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert said. “We’ve come back from the bust of 1982, and we’re holding our own as far as the economy goes.”

Oil shale development will dramatically “ramp up” the economy and the associated needs of the energy industry, he said. “It’s a prospect we’re looking at locally and realizing that may take place.”

Coloradans should pay close attention to ExxonMobil, Western Resource Advocates staff attorney Bob Randall said.

“It should be on the public’s radar screen both because of the threat to natural resources and because the Western Slope was burned by Exxon once before,” he said.

Bobby Magill can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]. and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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