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Microwave Oil Extraction May Make Fracking Obsolete

Written By Editor on 12/7/16 | 12/7/16

New technology may completely reshape the field of oil extraction, as well as make America energy independent. By utilizing microwaves to heat underground rock, seeking and pumping oil may radically alter over the coming years.

The technology is cutting edge and it remains to be seen if it is feasible. The early testing results appear to be positive. There are plans to utilize it in a practical setting for the first time in 2017.

The idea is not a new one: the concept was written about in the scientific journal Environmental Progress & Sustainable Energy in November 1989. However, like fracking, an older concept finally has technological advancement that can make it a reality.

One Colorado company, Qmast, hopes to be first to successfully exploit the concept. Other larger firms, including BP and ConocoPhillips are also researching similar extraction techniques. Current estimates from fracking and traditional technology place U.S. recoverable oil reserves at about 36 billion barrels. An early estimate of microwave technology could push this number into the trillions.

Part of the reason for the dramatic difference is the possibility that microwave technology could remove hydrocarbons from oil shale. Traditionally, there is no easy way to remove oil from these rocks. Microwaves beamed through a powerful source could separate oil from the stone and boil water within the rock. This would then push the water to the wellbore.

If this method works, it would supersede many of the worst aspects of hydrofracking. Fracking wells use up to 10 million gallons of water per well and require wastewater to either be left in the ground or disposed of. Other technology includes strip mining tar sands and heating them to extract oil. Both could be rendered obsolete through this process. If the technology works, there is a possibility that the technology could become commonplace over the next ten to twenty years. Estimates point to about a $65 break even point.
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