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The Billings Gazette (Montana): Shell takes next step in oil shale testing project: Saturday 20 August 2005


MEEKER, Colo. (AP) - Shell Oil is preparing the next phase of its multimillion-dollar effort to see if oil shale production is viable enough to crank up a large commercial facility.


Shell has received approval from Rio Blanco County, state and federal officials to conduct a $50 million, two- to four-year study of a groundwater freezing process, company spokeswoman Jill Davis said Thursday.


"We're still looking to decide if we'll move on to commercial production by the end of the decade," she said. "It's been promising, so we want to take it to the next level with an environmental test of our 'freeze wall' process."


Refrigerants such as ammonia dioxide are circulated through underground pipes to freeze nearby earth. The goal will be to keep groundwater out of a shale formation where heaters are "cooking" the oil out of the rock.


Shell has operated the shale research project on part of its 20,000-acre Cathedral Bluffs property for the last five years. The freezing tests are the next step, Davis said.


"We've tested the process in a circular pattern and this will be a football field-shaped rectangle in an area more like where commercial production could happen," she said. Shell also wants to test other containment methods in case there is a "break" in the frozen wall.


Davis said the permits do not allow underground heating, only groundwater freezing. Up to 250 holes will be drilled for various aspects of the project.


A water treatment plant, waste disposal areas, storage tanks, a refrigeration plant, temporary office space and parking areas will also be built, along with roads and pads. Shell will store topsoil for reclamation work.


Copyright The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.


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