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Rocky Mountain News: Oil shale operations would emit tons of CO2

Pollutant poses a huge problem, conference told

By Joe Carroll, Bloomberg News
October 19, 2007

Oil shale projects in the western U.S. by Exxon Mobil Corp. and other producers would spew as much carbon dioxide as all the factories and vehicles in Taiwan or Brazil, according to the Colorado Energy Research Institute.

Exxon, Europe’s Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron Corp. are spending $100 million a year to find ways to convert organic material buried beneath the Rocky Mountains into oil. Power plants and chemical reactions will generate as much as 350 million tons of carbon dioxide a year once production commences, said Jeremy Boak, director of the institute.

“The quantities are large,” Boak said this week at an industry conference in Golden. “They are big numbers. We’ve got to find a way to capture it and places to sequester it.”

The challenge of controlling greenhouse gases linked to global warming has stymied efforts to exploit oil shale resources in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming that rival the combined reserves of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Exxon, the world’s biggest energy company, said this week that it hasn’t started research into handling the emissions.

U.S. lawmakers and the Bush administration are debating whether to adopt limits on greenhouse gas emissions or impose a carbon tax on gasoline, coal and other fossil fuels. Greenhouse gases have been blamed for higher worldwide temperatures, which a United Nations report in April said may raise ocean levels, create more violent storms and spread tropical diseases.

U.S. cars, trucks, electricity plants, factories and furnaces emitted 5.88 billion tons of carbon dioxide last year, about 20 percent of the global total and more than any other nation, according to the Energy Department in Washington. China was the second-largest source of greenhouse gases, followed by Russia, Japan and India.

About 80 percent to 90 percent of the emissions from shale operations in the U.S. West will come from generators to heat dead plankton and ferns 2,000 feet underground to convert them to crude oil, Boak said at the conference, a shale oil symposium that’s been held for the past 27 years.

The other 10 percent to 20 percent of emissions will come from underground chemical reactions as organic material turns into oil and natural baking soda breaks down, said Boak, a geologist who spent 11 years on the cleanup of radioactive waste and the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium at U.S. government sites.

Boak’s estimate was based on Shell’s forecast that output from shale fields in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming eventually will reach 3 million barrels a day.

Commercial production of oil shale may not occur for 25 years, three times longer than the U.S. Interior Department expects, he said.

“There’s a long time available to us to address the problem,” Boak said.

Exxon, the world’s biggest company by market value, plans to use electrified petroleum coke particles injected into cracks in the shale to raise temperatures to 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Jesse Yeakel, a senior research specialist at Exxon Mobil, said the company hasn’t figured out what to do about carbon emissions.

Crude oil topped a record $90 a barrel Wednesday in New York futures trading.

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/energy/article/0,2777,DRMN_23914_5726152,00.html

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