Telecom, Financial Services Firm Gets Livermore Lab Help To Test Oil Shale Project For Permanent CO2 Storage

oil shale retort diagram image

If there were a "Green Fleece Award," the plan to have a taxpayer-supported Federal Lab help oil shale developers would get my nomination. (Inspirational credit to the late US Sen. Wm Proxmire's legendary Golden Fleece Award.)

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and American Shale Oil, LLC (AMSO), a subsidiary of IDT Corporation, announced today that they have entered into a technical cooperation agreement to develop carbon sequestration technologies for in ground shale oil production processes...Specifically, LLNL will partner with AMSO to study how to use depleted underground oil shale retorts to permanently store carbon dioxide generated during the oil shale extraction process. AMSO will provide technical expertise and oil shale core samples from its federal lease site.
Via:Eureka Alert, Livermore Lab and American Shale Oil team to study carbon sequestrationIDT Corporation is a global telecommunications company with a financial services division called IDT Capital. That division lists a subsidiary named "IDT Energy".

AMSO's website is clear about the the business relationship with IDT. And the AMSO website explains their "mission," this way.

# Our mission is to successfully execute on our plan so that we will:
* Produce a premium synthetic crude oil that is easier to refine than conventional shale oil
* Provide liquid fuels in quantities sufficient to support the needs of 1.5 million people for 25 years, from less than 2 square miles of disturbed land and with minimal water and air impacts
* Achieve a production cost similar to petroleum from challenging frontier environments (very deep water, arctic areas, oil sands)

AMSO proposes to heat the oil shale (as symbolized by the vertical, cross-section diagram above) within the native shale deposit, driving vapors upward and then capturing and condensing them for further processing. A rubble filled cavity within the earth is the refinery, in essence. The design implies relatively low consumptive water use and less of a toxic brine disposal problem than results from above-ground benefaction and refraction. (Requirements for open vs closed loop cooling/condensation equipment are not discussed, however.)

Have a look at the AMSO technology description here.

AMSO gives no indication of what the heat source for the "boiling oil" would be. Heat could be from a nuclear reactor; from grid powered electrical resistance heaters, from natural gas combustion; or, from by-product combustion, or some combination of these.

Superficially, the technology sounds worth exploring at the lab-bench scale. But, with support for 'energy security' projects of any sort sure to grow, and with AMSO owned by a financial services firm, that word "permanent" resonates poorly.

Oil price is sure to go high again, in a year or two. When it does, and if congress-critters get behind the project - beating on the energy security drum - that shale will get pretty slippery and the project hard to let go of once there is political support.

Discomfort seems to boil down to one question: is it the responsibility of taxpayers to support testing feasibility of this CO2 sequestration technology? If so, will that later extend to proving out long term carbon sequestration ? Or, should the R&D; be on those who came up with the idea?

If it is the government's, hence the taxpayers' responsibility to "cooperate", that risks going down the path that led to the unfinished and wildly controversial nuclear waste repository in Nevada, which nuclear power companies seem to have conveniently ducked public responsibility for. If, however, it is the private sector's responsibility to achieve sequestration, then let them (parent firm) cover the testing; and, later, let the US DOE and USEPA together consider, and perhaps independently validate, the developer's data.

Measure twice, sequester once.

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