Colorado firm uses heater cable for underground shale oil recovery

A technology as simple as an advanced heater cable may hold the key to tapping vast US oil shale resources without mining, the US Department of Energy's Fossil Energy Office said on Mar. 31.

Composite Technology Development Inc., a Lafayette, Colo., engineering and technology development company, successfully demonstrated the application of a ceramic-composite insulated cable for oil shale recovery deep underground, DOE said. The small business innovation research project through the Fossil Energy Office's oil and gas program employed 25 professionals and resulted in two patent applications, it added.

"With DOE's support over two phases of this project, CTD has demonstrated a way to tap into the western oil shale resources. With two-thirds of the world's supply of oil shale in the United States, technologies such as this can go a long way toward bolstering the development of our domestic energy resources, creating jobs and supporting energy security," said Victor K. Der, acting assistant US energy secretary for fossil energy.

DOE said that CTD researchers tested its cable for 5,000 continuous hours at temperatures from 760 to 850 degrees Celsius. During the tests, the cable overcame many limitations of existing cables including conductor instability, moisture-induced degradation and operating temperatures to limited to recover shale oil underground. The project was managed by DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory.

CTD's successful test of its heater cable holds promise for in-situ heating of the shale oil to a depth of 5,000 feet, separating the kerogen without having to mine the rock, DOE said. If future underground tests of the cable succeed, operators should be able to extract a petroleum-like liquid that is fluid enough to be pumped to the surface, it said.

The process could cut shale oil recovery costs in half and address environmental impacts by eliminating mining and part of the large-scale processing associated with current oil shale technology, according to DOE.

Contact Nick Snow at

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