MEEKER, Colo., April 7 (UPI) -- Shell Oil Co. is testing a shale oil project in northwestern Colorado to see if it can become commercially viable by the end of this decade.
Shell spokesman Terry O'Connor says the challenge is to prove the untried process is reliable and environmentally sustainable.
The company has tested on a small portion of its 20,000-acre Cathedral Bluffs property for the last five years, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported Thursday.
Large electrical heaters gradually heat shale oil-bearing rocks, up to 2,000 feet deep, to between 650 to 700 degrees to produce natural gas and light-grade oil that is pumped to the surface.
"We're still a couple of more test stages away from commercial production," O'Connor said.
Tests have so far produced approximately 2,000 barrels of oil with heaters spaced 10 to 20 feet apart over a five-acre parcel, but a commercial operation will mean more heaters and greater spacing.
Shell estimates its process is economical at oil prices of $25 to $30 a barrel, much less than recent prices in the $50 to $60 range.