Oil shale exploration resumes as energy demand rises

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PARACHUTE, Colo. (AP) Shell has resumed a modest oil shale test program, nearly 20 years after the collapse of the industry left portions of western Colorado looking like ghost towns.

A spokesman for Shell, the world's second-largest oil company, confirmed a report in The Denver Business Journal that a small exploration program resumed last year.

''Shell, like most of the major oil companies, has held oil shale rights in western Colorado for many years and we've been doing research in our labs in Houston for the last 20 years, certainly since the last boom if not longer,'' said spokesman Rich Hansen.

''You can just do so much research in the lab until you go into the field and try out your hypothesis. We're doing research to see if we can find a more efficient, more environmentally friendly way to extract the energy resource there,'' Hansen said.

Other companies told the Business Journal they are not interested presently in developing oil shale.

Though the 1982 collapse largely resulted from the cost of extracting the oil, the process also has been condemned by some environmentalists. Greenpeace activists have protested an Australian oil shale development, saying it is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels.

Billions of dollars were spent in western Colorado, and two nuclear devices detonated underground in an effort to free the oil. It turned out to be too radioactive to be exploited.

The state Division of Minerals and Geology says that some estimates put the recoverable oil in the shale northwest of Rifle at 300 billion barrels.

Producing oil from shale has involved loading crushed ore into a cooker that vaporizes the oil, which is condensed and collected. The process requires significant amounts of energy and water and leaves behind toxins.

Hansen said Shell is experimenting with a process in which heat is injected into the ground to extract the oil. The process solves some of the environmental problems associated with traditional extraction methods, Hansen said.

Testing is being conducted on two test plots of less than one acre each in Rio Blanco County, he said.

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