In April 2014, an ambitious hydrogeologist resorted to the pages of The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction, Colorado, to ask for “a quarter-acre to test technology.” His name was Peter Kearl. He had been working for over two decades on resource and environmental projects, including an award-winning river restoration project at an active mining site.
And he was now ready to test a technology he hoped would be revolutionary. In the article, he promised that the tests would cause minimal disturbances to the surface and that they would likely “produce — rather than use — water.”
After a couple of laborious years, Kearl’s technology, developed at Qmast LLC (which he co-founded), is emerging as one of the industry’s great new hopes. As the environmental impact of fracking continues to be scrutinized, the development of a new technology that can tap into oil shale reserves without generating wastewater can only be good news.
I am a big believer in the power of technology to ensure the oil and gas industry enjoys a long and healthy life. If you thought anti-fracking laws might be the end of the shale oil boom, think again. Microwaves may be one of the many emerging technologies to change all that.
The concept of microwaves has been around since the late 19th century, but the idea of beaming up oil using high power microwave (HPM) radiation is a novelty. According to some experts, it may take decades for the industry to adopt this new technology for extracting oil from fine-grained sedimentary rock containing kerogen (also known as oil shale).
Heat is required to extract oil from oil shale; heat that Kearl’s team is producing with a beam whose power equals that of 500 common microwave ovens.
HPM Oil Extraction Technology: Kearl’s Qmast Potential Undeniable
In the current market with low oil prices, it is increasingly difficult to fund new energy ventures. As several other oil shale projects have been shut down for lack of financing, the survival of Qmast is a testimony to the possibilities of HPM technology for oil extraction.
The Green River Formation, which spreads across Kearl’s native Colorado, as well as Utah and Wyoming, contains at least enough oil to meet the current U.S. oil demand for 165 years. The potential of extracting oil from this massive oil shale deposit -the largest on the planet- using Qmast’s technology is undeniable.
In fact, some major companies are currently developing their own microwave technology for oil extraction. But Qmast is ahead of the game. Kearl has announced that the company plans to be producing by the end of 2017.
At $9 per barrel, the pumping cost with the new method, according to Kearl, will be a mere $2 over that of traditional wells, but a Rystad Energy report estimates the breakeven oil price at $65 for new oil-patch development, which makes endeavors of this type difficult to fund at the current price of $49 per barrel.
But Kearl believes the microwave technology can be put to practice right away, as it can also be used to clean clogged conventional wells and steam-clean fracked formations experiencing water blockage.
In August 2015, Kearl told the New Scientist, “We’re still trying to convince people that this is not something out of Star Wars.” As it becomes increasingly clear that the world will continue to rely on hydrocarbons for many years to come, nobody seems to be doubting the potential of Qmast’s technology any longer.
Kearl has also said that the water produced from the oil shale extraction process is “pure enough to drink,” which may well become a winning point for the hydrogeologist’s brainchild, as the controversy over water pollution from fracking continues.
When comparing the HPM tech to standard hydrofracking, Kearl says, categorically, “It’s more efficient, with less impact on the environment.” Qmast’s operations have recently been approved for tax exemption under a new Colorado state program.